ME. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
C. f. I
ME. BEYANT'S MISTAKE
AUTHOR OF 'A DREAMER,' ' AN ILL-RERULATED MIND,' ETC.
IN THREE VOLUMES— VOL. I
RICHAED BENTLEY & SON, NEW BURLINGTON ST.
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' Spread not into boundless expansions either of designs or desires.
Hang early plummets upon the heels of pride, and let ambition
have but an epicycle and narrow circuit in thee. Think not thy
o^\^l shadow longer than that of others, nor delight to take the
altitude of thyself. '
Mary Smith 1
The Ixsane Root .43
III Weeds Grow Apace 151
Bascl\nte . . . . . . . .253
ME. BEYANT'S MISTAKE
When a man performs, and that with a willing
mind and a generous glow in his soul, a mag-
nanimous action which is above the level of his
habit, various reflections arise in the mind of a
spectator. He considers whether it is the man's
best self which has done the deed ; and this
suggests the further inquiry whether one's best self
is one's real self. The enthusiast will answer the
question affirmatively, and it may be with justice.
There is so much misfortune in all wrong-doing !
so much unwillingness and coercion and extraneous
influence of every kind ! Let the man for once
have fair play, a free field, and no favour — let him
be himself, in short — and behold the magnanimous
action. The soberer critic will find more fruit
m the inquiry. What effect does the unwonted
generosity have on the man's after life ? Is it
4 MR. BRYANTS MISTAKE
sanctifying and ennobling, lifting his subsequent
ideals into harmony with it ? or does it become
to him a blunder and a disaster, — a tone which
he cannot silence, but which is discordant with
the unpretentious melody of his career, turning the
whole to failure and confusion ? And if so, would
the magnanimous action have better been omitted ?
Even if it had been the man's best self, the man's
real self, acting perhaps for one only time in his
life, that was responsible for it ?
Such questions cannot be decided ; they can only
be discussed. At least, we perceive that people are
different ; and the old saying remains true in every
age, that one man's meat is another man's poison.
In Mr. Bryant's case the action's motive was
complicated by love. He certainly would not have
done what he did, if he had not been very deeply
and very sincerely in love. Love, we know, is blind,
and it is quite possible that Mr. Bryant did not
see at all what a magnanimous thing he was doing,
nor consider the difficulty there would be in tuning
the rest of his life to harmonise with it. He
w^as a country curate, prematurely widowed.
His vicar was not surprised when one day he
announced very calmly that he was about to give
his baby Georgina a stepmother. The vicar con-
gratulated him, and of course asked a few particulars
about the bride. She was Mrs. Grant, a fair young
MARY SMITH 5
widow, who for some mouths had been resident
in the neighbourhood, but in the greatest possible
retirement. And as the conversation proceeded,
Mr. Bryant said further that Mrs. Grant's first mar-
riage had been ' singularly unfortunate.' The vicar,
smelling a rat, but not sufficiently intimate with his
curate to care to chase it, merely inquired if he had
known the lady long ; and Mr. Bryant replied, Oh
yes ; all his life ; her and all her family ; in fact, had
wished to marry her long ago. And he sighed and
wished he had done so. The vicar said it all seemed
very suitable ; and concluded that his curate,
who was no fool, and not quite a gentleman —
son of a retired grocer, in fact, as every one was
aware — knew what he was about. Yet, considering
that there was some mystery about Mrs. Grant
or the deceased Mr. Grant, the vicar was not
altogether sorry that the wedding was postponed
till Mr. Bryant had moved on to a better
curacy in a dull part of London ; where no one
happened to inquire into the young couple's
previous history, or to realise that they were
only just married, and that the baby was Mrs.
Bryant's stepdaughter ; or to discover that the
gentle, girlish creature had herself been married
before, and had a little child of her own, living
for the present with an aunt at Faverton Farm,
far down in the country.
6 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
We go back to the day after the wedding,
when the pair are sitting together in a small and
incommodious sitting-room of a private hotel at
Brighton. I beg you to observe that Edward
Bryant is a most worthy and conscientious clergy-
man, and to remember that he is very much in
love with his wife. The golden-haired Emma is ex-
tremely pretty ; very gentle, fragile, and obedient ;
a little sad too, and probably less enamoured
' And now, my dearest,' Mr. Bryant was saying,
holding her hand in his and playing with her
thin fingers, ' I will tell you the arrangement I have
made for Mary.' He stammered a little over the
remark, much to his own vexation ; and Mrs.
Bryant started and coloured. ' You see, Emma,'
he went on rather pompously, ' a clergyman's
position is important. His home life and the
lives of those belonging to him will be narrowly
inspected : properly so.'
' Yes, Ned,' said Emma, with a little sigh, which
seemed to vex him.
' My dear, it is inevitable ; it is better to recog-
nise it. There is no use in trying to deceive our-
selves, or each other.' Poor Emma, who had always
been in the habit of nourishing illusions, shivered.
' There is another thing,' continued her husband ;
' clergymen and their wives, as a rule, belong to
MAR Y SMITH 7
the highest classes. They get a certain prestige
from their birth. Now you and I, Emma, have
not that advantage. Oh, it doesn't matter/ he said
with some concealed irritation, answering a gentle
reply of hers ; ' rank is of less moment than it was-
People will be civil enough to us if they see we have
brains and money, and Christian principles.' He
paused ; put his hands in his pockets, and seemed
rather embarrassed. ' All I mean is — Emma, I must
speak plainly to you for once. You will trust me
that I know best about the matter, as you promised,
won't you ? Emma, the past — entirely innocent, my
poor love, on your part, beyond measure culpable
on the part of others — is happily over and done
with. For all our sakes, it must now be com-
pletely obliterated and forgotten.'
'Oh, Edward! how?'
' Circumstances have been kind to us, Emma.
We are going among total strangers, who need
never know more of you than that you are my
wife. We keep silence about the rest. Even to
each other. Do you see ? ' Emma, very pale, sat up
straight, lookinf]^ out at the sea; her hands motionless
in her lap. Was it possible what he was saying, that
the whole miserable history of her first marriage, of
her credulous folly and that other's dastardly decep-
tion, could be wiped out ? Could she really hold up
her head again not merely as his wife, but as his
8 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
untainted, unsuspected wife, who would excite neither
remark, pity, nor censure ?
' Ned,' said Emma, clasping her hands and looking
up in his eyes, ' you are forgetting the child. Ned,
Ned, what do you mean ? You haven't married the
old Emma Eandle. I wish you had ! I wish you had !
You have married Emma Grant — a widow. Oh, Ned !
And Mary is her child. You promised you'd be
good to my poor little child. It was for her sake
I married you ! ' The last words were impulsive
and not meant for him. He frowned lightly.
' Yes, dear, yes. What you suggest might be
possible if we were persons of the rank to which the
clergy usually belong. Persons of that rank are above
suspicion. But a farmer's daughter will be scrutinised,
you may be sure ; and a grocer's son might be sup-
posed less particular on certain points than the son
of a marquis. We should be asked questions about
your late husband. There would be gossip. The
matter would come out. How could we make your
perfect simplicity and innocence understood, my
poor love ? Emma, you must guess what the unkind
world would say. It would ruin your comfort — our
whole career. No, my love, we are going among
strangers. Silence is possible, and silence is best'
' But, Edward — the child ! Unless you mean,'
said the young wife timidly, ' that she is to think
you are her real own papa.'
MAR V SMITH 9
The clergyman started up and walked to the
window, for Emma had made him angry. ' My dear/
he said, gently but firmly, ' I promised to provide
for that poor child's welfare — for her food, her keep,
schooling, a future provision, — all she can reasonably
require, but I cannot undertake to adopt her as my
daughter, nor — at present — to have her in my house/
_ ' Oh, Edward, you promised ! ' she sobbed, go-
ing to him and drawing his arm round her ; ' oh,
you cannot be so cruel I '
* No, I didn't promise that, my love. Listen now.
Your brother is going to keep her. Sarah wishes
it. She is the same age as little Nannie, you know,
and they will grow up as twins. Sarah has arranged
a parentage for her which has been already accepted.
Not a soul at Eaverton knows she has anything to
do with you, or is surprised by her presence at the
farm ; I have already handed them a fine lump of
money for her. Smith, — that is the name they have
given her ; daughter of your cousin Matilda, whom
Sarah knew so well in service. Mrs. Smith, you
know, is dead. It is all arranged and accepted, Emma.
It is best in every way not to reopen the question.'
* But it is not true ! ' said the astounded Emma.
' My dearest, this little girl's presence in the world
at all will necessitate some economy of the truth/
' Let me have her, Edward, and call her Smith ! '
' My love, it is out of the question. The secret
lo MR. Bryant's mistake
would leak out. Besides, she will be infinitely
happier in your brother's sphere than in the higher
one we should have to drag her into, where, if by
some chance her birth was discovered, it would be
terrible for you and for herself Now she will
have a happy home, a twin sister, and an undisputed
position, all without injuring or defrauding any one.'
'I am defrauded,' said Emma, with simple dignity,
quite unexpected from her. ' She is my child, and
you are going to rob me of her.' There was further argu-
ment, and I am sorry to say they grew rather angry
with each other, and I think with justice on both sides.
But of course Emma eventually submitted. Her
nature was not one to be victorious in combats.
She had all her life been in the habit of obedi-
ence — obedience generally, alas ! to the wrong
person. And when she had got herself into such
a dreadful position, Emma felt that to refuse
obedience to one so nobly generous as Mr. Bryant
was impossible for more reasons than that he
had a strong will and she a weak one. Besides,
a conspiracy had been formed against Emma. Mr.
Bryant's plan about Mary had been designed a good
many months ago, in concert with his brother-in-
law, who cared more for saving the reputation of his
highly respectable family than for anything else.
The infant had been taken from its mother at once ;
it had seemed to her as difficult to recover posses-
MARY SMITH ii
sion of it as to steal the little Xannie, who was Sarah
Randle's own. Emma had believed that Edward
would establish her claim to the mythical Mrs. Smith's
baby. He refused : how could slic set about it, who
was by nature destitute of courage and who always
did what she was told ? Of course she submitted ;
and her husband was kind and caressing ; and
promised she should visit Mary whenever she
chose, and talk about her as much as ever she
liked, pro\dded always she called her Mary Smith.
But the infant was hardly ever mentioned. Instinct
kept Emma silent. She felt that in her husband's
love and pity there was little sympathy: — little com-
prehension of her mere maternal longing; none of the
feebly regretful tenderness with which she still looked
back on a dream, true while it had lasted, and from
which the awakening alone had been bitter.
For poor Emma had loved, not wisely, nor even
nobly, but too well ; and she had entirely believed
at the time, and, to Mr. Grant's own astonished
embarrassment, would have believed to the end, that
the silly formality with which he had beguiled her
was a legal marriage, to be kept secret because he
was a gentleman and she only a farmer's daughter ;
and for the three or four months that he had been with
her, she had been blissfully, radiantly happy. Then
he had gone away, and very soon afterwards came
the news that he had been drowned on his way to
12 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
America. A lawyer had come to tell her about it,
and had explained to her with brutal plainness her
real position. He had put her in possession of the
money — no very great sum — which Mr. Grant had.
left her ; and the whole episode was ended. Emma,
worse than widowed, had fled weeping to her brothers ;
who were furious of course, though they helped and
protected her to the best of their ability ; and by
ingenious disguises, subterfuges, and feigned names
they saved her reputation better than she had thought
possible or even desirable. But Mr. Bryant
alone was kind to her, and did not temper his
advice and assistance with scolding. Long ago,
when he had been only an aspiring and scholarly
young grocer with a speculative father, she had
disdained his pretensions to her hand. But the
tables were turned now, and though she was not in
love with him, nor pretended to be so, it did not take
much persuading to induce her to accept the love
and protection, the haven of rest and restoration to
respectability, which he offered her.
Mr. Bryant was soon as happy as a victorious
man has a right to be. He became immersed in
sermons and in parish work ; while Emma did her
somewhat unsuccessful best in the Sunday School,
and tried to like the vicar's wife, and the genteel
persons whom she occasionally met at the vicar's
dinner-table. She was very kind to little Georgie,
MARY SMITH 13
and only cried for her own banished baby in private.
Unfortunately, Mr. Bryant surprised her at that
amusement once or twice. Emma, though good and
dutiful, and always sweet and dear, had never been
quite, the same since he had refused to bring Mary
home. Mr. Bryant was victorious and happy; but
always there was in his mind a secret misgiving
about that superfluous infant.
' When Emma's wed to the parson she'll be an ob-
ject of pride to the family after all,' said Ann Eandle,
wife of Jim, to Sarah, wife of Benjamin, as she
put the stranger child to bed ; for the Jim Eandles
were poor, and Ann was glad to help her sister-
in-law in nursery and household matters, 'for a
But Sarah, who had once been maid to Lady
Katharine Leicester, and was the pink of propriety,
answered sternly, 'Nor me, nor Ben, we'll never
boast not of Emma for none of her qualities, not
if she got to be queen of the country. And, to
tell you the truth, Ann, in confidence, Ben can't
abide that there Ned Bryant, and if he marries
Emma, you and me'll have to manage so they shan't
be comincr here often and remindino- us of all this
14 MR, BRYANT'S MISTAKE
bother like Emma does ; and stirring Ben's bile up
like Ned Bryant can't help doing ; and taking airs
upon themselves like Emma has tried once or twice
with me already, as if she were gentry, and not a
scum as I wouldn't touch my dress upon, if it
weren't for the family credit.'
' Yo're 'ard upon Emma/ said Ann ; ' if you'd
been brought up like Emma was, and mey too, with
no good mother to teach you your dooty, maybey
you'd have blundered too, and folks 'ud have called
you a scum. Though maybey your moderate face
might have saved you. It isn't every young woman
with looks as can bring themselves up respectable as
I have done ; and Emma wasn't never so clever as
some. A motherless girl 'ud need have every
advantage if she's to keep straight.'
About two months after the Bryant marriage,
however, it was decided that a family meeting must
be held to admit Edward Bryant as brother-in-law,
and to reinstate Emma in some sort of favour. No
one looked forward to the event with any pleasure,
except Ann, who loved scenes ; and poor Emma
herself, who was to see her child, almost literally
for the first time.
And what a dull, stiff, awkward dinner it proved
at the farmhouse ! The women were, it cannot be
denied, a little awed by Emma's elegant clothes and
the refined manner she was acquiring. But her
MARY SMITH 15
brothers did not seem to have anything to say, and
Mr. Bryant sat silent and ill at ease, as he was apt
to feel nowadays when thrown back into vulgar
society. And Sarah, who was anxious to scold,
reproved Emma for not having brought Georgina.
'A stepmother had ought to be so careful,' said
the farmer's wife ; ' the servants 'ill be setting her
mind against you if you deny her innocent pleasures
because she'd be a trouble to you.'
' Oh no, no trouble,' said Emma, who had left
the child at home by her husband's wdsh.
' My dear, what's the good of saying that ? Don't
I know other folk's children is bound to be a trouble ? '
said Sarah ; and Ann cried out —
' La, sister, how stoopid you are ! ' but not before
Emma's sad heart had exclaimed silently, ' They
think my Mary a trouble.'
' Mayn't I see the children, Sarah?' asked Emma
tremulously, meaning of course one child only :
Mary Smith, who was a trouble.
The elder scions of the farmer's family were
produced, boys and girls of various ages, all with
hair beautifully oiled and new clothes. Emma
admired them and wished they would not stare so,
and Mr. Bryant gave them sixpences. And then
every one felt uncomfortable, when, in a very low
tone, Emma asked for the little ones.
• Ann took the little ones up to her house for
i6 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
me,' said Sarah ; ' if you like, Emma, you can walk
up. I thought maybe they'd vex Mr. Bryant with
crying.' The allusion seemed too pointed, and Emma
turned scarlet as she asked nervously —
' How far is it, Ann ? ' for by this time it was
raining and she was looking wofuUy tired.
' About a mile and a quarter over the fields ;
but they are awful muddy for sidespring boots
' Oh, Ann, I don't believe I can do it ! ' cried the
poor mother, bursting into tears ; ' whatever did you
take her away there for ? '
Sarah saw the grand brother-in-law's involuntary
frown at Emma's sob, and thought it necessary to
recall the girl to the exigencies of her position.
' We didn't suppose as Mr. Bryant would care
about seeing Matilda Smith's orphan,' she said
severely ; and when Mr. Bryant frowned again at
her tasteless stupidity, she thought he was frowning
' Matilda Smith ! ' cried the outraged mother,
indignant through her tears. Then she appealed to
her husband. ' Ned, won't you speak up for me ?
Won't you tell them they must bring my baby for
me to see ? '
Terrible ! Every one shuddered. The secret
they had all guarded so religiously was obviously
not to be trusted with her. And there was
MAR V SMITH 17
that precocious little Alick, Ann's eldest, who
looked all eyes, listening with all his might, and
staring and wondering, and treasuring it all up in
his clever little mind 1 But Mr. Bryant's chivalry
was equal to the occasion. He would not reproach
her 710W ; and snubbing Sarah was pleasant.
' I will walk over with you, my love,' he said
kindly, taking her hand ; * a mile and a half is not far.
Don't cry, my dearest ; don't cry.' So the husband
and wife went together and Emma was comforted.
Dear Edward was still the only person who was
kind to her. Surely some day he would let her
bring the poor innocent child home, away from
these women who thought her a trouble ! Mr. Bryant
was certainly making no resolve of the sort.
Sarah's baby and 'Matilda Smith's' could have
passed very well for twins ; they were not unlike, and
Nannie Randle, though three weeks the elder, was
the smaller child of the two. Little Mary was the
prettier, and Emma, divining her own by instinct,
darted at her at once and hugged her to her de-
frauded bosom. No, she had never kissed Georgina
like that. Edward Bryant noticed the difference at
once; an insane jealousy of the child possessed him.
Emma would never be wholly his while the crea-
ture lived ; no, though she bore him children and
clasped them to her breast with that smile she
could never bend on Georgina. Good heavens !
VOL. I 2
1 8 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
could it be possible that she might never love
his children so much as this wretched fatherless
babe ? It needed all his self-command to endure
patiently the sight of his wife rocking her infant
and crooning over it with all the arts which
nature teaches a mother. But he managed it.
He even smiled once at the child, and touched
its cheek with his finger. After that it was easy
to bend over his wife, the dear Emma of his love,
and kiss her golden hair and dewy eyes.
'Dearest Edward!' she murmured; 'oh, you are
good to me ! I did not expect to be so happy to-day.'
But he was saying to himself, ' I wish to good-
ness I could prevent her from ever coming here
Emma, however, never received reprimand for
daring to use the expression ' my baby.' That Ma-
donna look of hers had awed her husband, and the
subject of the child was simply dropped as some-
thing disagreeable. Weeks passed on ; Mr. Bryant
did not suggest that Emma should visit Mary again ;
and Emma herself, though the words were for ever
trembling on her tongue, lacked courage to speak
the request. Mary Smith stood between them like
a spectre. Emma was becoming miserable under
the conviction that she was neglecting her poor
child, and Mr. Bryant was ill at ease, and could
not see her caressing Georgina without reading a
MAR Y SMITH 19
reproach in her wistful tenderness. He began
to wish he had arranged matters differently, but
it would not be easy to make changes now ; and
indulged repugnance to speaking of the infant
had deepened, it seemed, into sheer impossibility.
One day a letter came to Emma from her old
home. It was in Ann's sprawling and ill -spelt
writing, and on the outside was scribbled, ' Burn
this for infection.' What a mysterious and alarming
direction ! Mr. Bryant was always tempted to have
the first reading of Emma's letters ; he continually
dreaded for her some agitation about Mary Smith.
To-day he broke the seal.
* My dearest Sister-in-law — I hope this finds
you well, has it leaves mey. They have illness at
the Farm. I'm going to nurse the children and
shan't come home for a while, being its scarlet,
and Alick mustn't get it. He's an ailing body.
Sarah is dreadful bad and two of the children.
Maybe it's Mary. I'll nurse her like my own.
Good-bye my dear. I'm fond of Mary. — Your
Mr. Bryant heard Emma descending the stair-
case leading Georgie by the hand. How pretty they
looked as they came in ! A lady surely and a lady's
child. The ill-spelt scrawl from the loving sister
Ann annoyed him. He thrust it into his breast-
20 MR. BRYANTS MISTAKE
pocket to think it over. Oh, that child ! that
It crossed Mr. Bryant's mind that if the fever
were to remove Mary Smith, it might be release
from a good deal of embarrassment. But no ! that
was an un - Christian thought. To desire any
one's death was, according to New Testament
principles, to be a murderer. Mr. Bryant conjured
a prayer to his lips that the wicked thought, and
all other wicked thoughts, might be cast out of
his heart. I hope it is understood that Mr. Bryant
was no sinner. He was only trying to act with
prudence. He never even economised the truth
unless it was necessary. If he were trying to
gather figs off thistles he was not the first, nor will
he be the last, who has devoted much energy to that
seldom profitable branch of agriculture. And this
morning Mr. Bryant soon felt more cheerful. For
though he had read and concealed the letter by a
sudden impulse, he could now see it had been inspira-
tion. For of course he must consider his wife's wel-
fare. She must on no account, in her present delicate
health, go near infection ; she must be spared anxiety
if possible. He would himself go down and see how
the case really stood with Mary Smith.
When Mr. Bryant arrived at Faverton, the
farmhouse was in a state of sad confusion, for Mrs.
Kandle was the person who usually kept everything
MARY SMITH 21
going. The clergyman was received in the spirit
of the remark, ' To see the nakedness of the land
ye are come.'
' You'd best go and feed at the public,' growled
the farmer, who sat in the corner, his head buried
in his hands and much depressed by the doctor's
unfavourable opinion of his wife ; ' we ain't got
nothing here fit for a genelman.'
Mr. Bryant answered temperately that he had
not come for dinner.
' Then I'd like to know what you have come
for ? ' shouted Eandle ; and for the life of him Mr.
Bryant could not at once begin about Mary, but
made supererogatory inquiries for Sarah, which irri-
tated his brother-in-law yet more. Happily Ann
appeared, and averted further quarrelling.
A clever, fluent woman was Ann Eandle, and very
anxious to prove her own importance. Indeed she
had attained to a higher position in the family than
was warranted by her mere marriage with Jim,
who had picked her up (and been called a fool
for his pains) in a fishing village of the next
county, whither he had been sent by Sir Charles
Leicester on a mission to his property there.
Ann was delighted to see Mr. Bryant ; as yet
she had not had direct dealing with him, and
she was anxious he should not regard her as a
22 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
She sent the farmer to his wife, and bade her
own husband get out to his work; then sat down
to cold beef and beer, and begged the unwilling
clergyman to join her.
' I am afraid poor Emma was much topsy-turvied
by my letter,' said Mrs. Jim. Mr. Bryant drew a
chair to the table and sat down by the important
' To tell the truth, Ann, Emma has not yet seen
your letter. When I understood what serious
news it contained, I dreaded its effect upon her,
and wished to spare her all needless anxiety.
I trust that poor child is recovering.' It was
disconcerting to the correct Mr. Bryant that Ann
Eandle put her elbows on the table, leaned over
as close as possible to him, stared at him hard, and
then winked. He looked away from such vulgar
conduct. Then Ann pulled a long face, cast her
eyes up to heaven, nodded twice or thrice, and said
with a sigh —
' Mary Smith, that desolate orphan in what we
are all interested, is very ill ; and her cousin Nannie
too. I'm a plain-spoken woman, Mr. Bryant,' she
went on, ' and I never find it prospers to be any-
thing else. When Jim asked me to marry him,
" Ann," says he, " will you have me ? " — " Jim," says
I, " I'll have you ; for you comes to mey spaking
the truth, and that is what I like. You ain't
MARY SMITH 23
rich and you ain't so clever as some, and I don't
say I'd be spaking the truth if I called you
handsome ; but I beheve you are honest, and the
truth is all I care for." I'm a very truthful woman,
Mr. Bryant, and I take it convenient when folks
spake the truth to mey.'
' Quite so,' replied Mr. Bryant, wondering why
she winked at him again.
Then Ann leaned forward and whispered with
awful solemnity, ' Mr. Edward Bryant, sir, is it
truth to say you hoipe Mary Smith is better ? '
Mr. Bryant quite jumped. But he answered
calmly, ' I do not desire suffering for the innocent
child, Mrs. Handle.' Ann nodded and sighed again.
' Poor Mary's a cumbrance,' she said, ' and that's
the plain truth. " Jim," says I, " mark my words ;
Sarah will feel that babe a cumbrance." — " So would
yo, Ann," says he. " No," says I ; " my mother's
heart is large enough for the stranger. I'm an excep-
tionable woman ; but Sarah will want to be rid of
her in six months." '
* Do you mean,' asked Mr. Bryant in some anxiety,
' that Ben and Sarah are repenting of their engage-
ment ? '
' I heard 'em saying not once nor twice lately,
and not jesting neither, — you ask 'em yourself, Mr.
Bryant, — "Emma '11 have to take the child herself,
and we'll give parson back his money." '
24 MR. BRYANTS MISTAKE
' Out of the question/ said the clergyman, calmly.
*I'm sorry for Mary to feel a cumbrance,' ob-
' Perhaps you want the money ? You can arrange
that with Sarah if you choose. I don't care a straw
which of you keeps the child, so she is properly cared
' Ay, money 'd be a convenience to mey,' said Ann
Eandle, ' but law, Jim wouldn't do with the child.
She's a cumbrance to Sarah, and to mey, and most
of all to you, Mr. Bryant, if we spake gospel truth
for once in our lives.' He shrugged his shoulders
' Well, we have to put up with many encum-
brances. I think I have materially lightened this
one for the child's foster parents.'
' Maybey she'll die of the fever,' said Ann.
' That is as God pleases.'
' I say, if I'm to spake the truth, Mr. Bryant,
I hope she may. So you say too, I suppose, when
yo spake the truth.'
' It is as God pleases,' repeated Mr. Bryant,
annoyed and rising.
' She's very ill,' continued Ann ; ' Mary Smith is
mry ill. The doctor he says Nannie may recover,
but the adopted child with her weak constitootion
is like to die. His orders is strict, Mr. Bryant, —
very fast orders ; hard to carry out when the nurse
MAR V SMITH 25
volertory and unpaid too, has three patients at once.
Mary Smith the orphan is the worst of the three.
Sarah may get up again after weeks of illness.
Nannie may be crowing in a fortnight, but I doubt
that after a scrap of carelessness, a haccident with
me, a lateness in giving medicine, or such like, Mary
Smith's spirit will go to join her poor mother
Matilda in heaven.'
Mr. Bryant, standing with his back to the woman,
was trembling all over, and cold beads of perspiration
hung on his forehead. It was one of the most
terrible moments of his life ; for with all his horror
at the suggestion, as he imagined Ann intended it,
he could not help feeling that the consummation
were one devoutly to be wished. He turned round
and faced his sister-in-law, his face ghastly and his
' You are a wicked woman, Ann Randle. God
forgive you. Let me hear not one other word in
this strain, if you do not wish to bring a curse upon
us all.' But he had misunderstood her. Ann
stared at him in astonishment ; then uttered a
cry of horror, backing from him in disgust.
* In God's name, Mr. Bryant, whatever maggot
has got into your head ! Any one 'ud think you'd
been wishing I'd neglect the pretty dear ! Your
taking me up so, Mr. Bryant, shows what has been
running in your mind, for shame to you. Poor,
26 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
poor dear! I said right when I said she was a
Mr. Bryant with a shudder sank into a chair and
covered his face with his hand. In his bewilder-
ment he really could not remember how the con-
versation had gone up to this point. His impression
had been that Ann was suggesting her willingness
(for a consideration, no doubt) to relieve him
effectually of the burden of Mary Smith. But
perhaps the odious thought, as she said, had been
in his brain, not in hers. He remained silent,
mentally and physically shaken, while this dreadful
woman chattered on, positively chattered, over the
grave of the Satanic suggestion.
' You have no understanding of the female nature,
Mr. Bryant. I daresay now, if it had to be done,
you could do it yourself quiet somehow and make
no bones about it, like a many doctors do with
badly -made infants. But a woman has to be
desperate afore she could harm a pretty dear. Not
Emma who bore her, nor Sarah who suckled her,
nor mey who've only washed and dressed her times,
we couldn't hurt Mary Smith. You'll never get
one of us to help you off with your cumbrance
that way, Mr. Bryant, and you needn't think it.'
'Let me see the child and go,' said Mr. Bryant,
rising at last ; ' I will bring Emma here. I no
longer feel confidence in you.'
MAR V SMITH 27
And then Mrs. Eandle nodded her head again
mysteriously, lea\dng her resentment ; and tapping
her nose, she whispered after a moment, ' Now,
Mr. Bryant, if I w^as you, I ivoiddnt bring Emma
here. If you was a clever woman like mey, and
it was worth my while, maybey yo'd find a hinnicent
way of doing the business, less stoopid than your
manly murdering sort of notion.'
*I don't know what you mean, woman,' said the
clergyman angrily ; ' let me see the child and go.'
With her finger on her lip, and stepping
noisily on tiptoe, Ann Eandle led him through
the silent house, past the room where Sarah was
talking to her husband in the loud incoherence of
delirium. Ghastly that grating voice sounded to
Mr. Bryant's excited nerves, as it floated out on
the sunny fragrance of the breeze-blown staircase,
which was lighted by lattice windows, open now
to the scent of jasmine and honeysuckle. He fol-
lowed his guide silently to the nursery. The older
children had all been turned out ; only the two
cradles stood there side by side, a sick baby in each.
One little cot was of the herceaunette pattern, with
white curtains of rough lace and a silk patchwork
quilt ; the other, a mere straw cottage affair, with-
out drapery, and w^ith bedclothes not at the moment
very clean, and absolutely without decorations.
Emma's child ; Mr. Bryant felt the contrast. But
after a moment he doubted whether the difference
in the cots were not after all accidental ; for the
flushed tossing child in the straw cradle did not
look at all like the Mary Smith at the point of
death whom Mr. Bryant had expected to see. On
the other hand, the white, still, wasted little piece
of mortality under the white curtains appeared,
to Mr. Bryant's bewildered eye, unnatural, even
' Which is which ? ' asked the clergyman.
' Just so, sir,' replied Ann Eandle ; ' which is
which ? '
Mr. Bryant's heart came into his mouth, and he
did not repeat the question.
On their return to the parlour they met the farmer,
who had descended from his wife's sick-chamber,
and was much upset by grief and alarm. It was
time for Mr. Bryant to return to the station, but
he lingered ; unaccountably, it seemed to Eandle.
* The child is said to be dying,' said the clergy-
' Let all the children die,' returned the farmer,
peevish at this interruption to his grief about Sarah.
MARY SMITH 219
* La ! ' cried Ann, ' that ain't the talk to make
your wife better. You men care nought about your
children. You scarce know the one from the
' What child's dying ? ' asked Eandle, turning
on her savagely.
' La now, Mr. Benjamin, do be patient. It ain't
your Nannie is dying. It's the orphan, Mary
* Let her die,' said the farmer ; * it's she has
brought this curse on us.'
* Benjamin Handle,' said Mr. Bryant, stepping
forward, * I insist upon that child's being taken care
The farmer brought his heavy hand on the table
with a thump.
* That's what you're come about, is it, Ned
Bryant ? Oh ay, I took your money, so I did, and
you want your money's worth, do ye ?' The brat
shall be nursed the same as Sarah's lass. Them's
my orders, Ann, bean't they ? You mind 'em, I
say. But we won't have this brat bringing more
fevers on us, Ned Bryant. You shall have your
money back, and Emma shaU have her child.
She's lost me my Sarah, that's where it is. I
oughtn't never have took your money, Ned Bryant.
Hush money never come to no good. When the
brat's well enough to move, she shall march.'
30 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
Mr. Bryant declined to discuss the matter at
present. Then Ann referred again to her ' voler-
tory and unpaid services/ and wheedled some
money out of the rich brother-in-law.
'Thank you, sir. I understand you, sir. I'll
do my best, I'm sure, for Mary Smith. But little
babies die wonderful quick, sir. I'd like Emma
to remember that,' she said, winking at him again
to his keen disgust.
What had he done ? Mr. Bryant made yet
one more effort to reveal the plot. ' Go up, Ben,
and look at those children.'
' I won't,' shouted Randle. ' My child's doing
well, you say, Ann? I ain't a-going to catch a
squint looking at tother.'
' What have I done, I wonder ? ' said Mr. Bryant
to himself as he walked away. ' Ben is right ; this
Mary Smith has brought a curse upon us all.'
Alas, poor child ! Never in those few short months
of her little life called Pet, and Precious, and Sweet,
and Baby ; only, by every one, with full honours,
as if she were some grim old maid, Mary Smith.
Mr. Bryant took his seat in the train and tried
to review his position. An intense repugnance to
the whole Randle family and connection was his
first and most prominent feeling. Was it possible
that he, with his white hands and clerical coat, had
once belonged to people of that class ? had spoken
MARY SMITH 31
with that rude vxdgarity ? had looked out on the
world with just such self-important, unaspiring
* How fortunate that Emma is not very fond of
her relations,' he thought, and reflected that there
was really only one strong tie binding Emma to her
old home, — a tie which seemed now about to be
snapped. ' Good heavens, is it wrong of me to wish,
almost to pray, that the child may indeed die ? '
And then he felt a shiver run down his back.
For it seemed perfectly clear to him that the babe
had not been dying at all, and that if the tie
were about to be snapped it would be by unlawful
And yet he had done nothing. He had really
nothing tangible to accuse himself of He had pro-
tested against neglect. He had paid extra for proper
nursing. He had recoiled in horror from any pro-
ject of hastening nature's end. Why should he
blame himself for not giving voice to suspicions
that really seemed grounded in nothing but fancy ?
That he was confused between the infants could
astonish no one. They were rather more alike than
every other two babies, and before this day he had
not looked at Nannie at all, and only for five
minutes at Mary Smith. If there was — a mistake
between them, no reasonable person could hold him
accountable. And why should he suppose there
32 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
was even going to be a mistake ? Ann Eandle had
said nothing definite. And then Mr. Bryant asked
himself, Suppose there was — a mistake — not of his
making, and which he was too simple and too
honest to suspect — what harm would it do ? Posi-
tively none to any one. He thought hard on this
point ; and he could not discover any damage that
would come to any one, if by any chance such an
unfortunate accident as the confusing of the two
children were to occur. 80 long as nobody knew, it
would not matter in the least.
And then a recollection came to him of his dear
wife's cry when they had talked of Mary Smith on
the morrow of their wedding. ' She is my child.
/ should be defrauded.'
Pshaw ! ridiculous, sentimental rubbish. Noth-
ing could be more for Emma's advantage than the
removal of this unfortunate, fatherless child.
But all this was absurd. It was a maggot in
his brain, as Ann had expressed it. No one but
himself was dreaming of such silly juggling as
an attempt to change the identity of two children.
In fact he was going to see that nothing of the
kind could possibly be done. He would take
steps. If Mary Smith died he would arrange that
she should not be buried without the corpse being
inspected by some one who had known the child
well. He had been a fool to spend so long con-
MAR V SMITH n
sidering the details of any project so ridiculous.
The rest of the journey should be better occupied
in framing some way of breaking the sad tidings to
poor dear Emma, that her unfortunate child was,
according to the doctor's verdict, at the point of
death. It would be great suffering for the dear
loving woman who had suffered so keenly already.
Mr. Bryant began to feel sorry he had such a
message to deliver. Thank Heaven, he had got at
last into a fairly Christian frame of mind.
On entering, Mr. Bryant went straight to his wife.
It was a sultry afternoon, and Emma, languid all
the summer, had found the close London house not
a Httle oppressive. She sat in an arm-chair by the
open window, Georgina on her knee for once, and
fast asleep ; her round healthy face, more highly
coloured than her stepmother's, bright with sunny
slumber. At first he thought Emma was asleep
too, for her fau' head drooped and she was very
still ; but she looked up as he approached, and
then he saw that her soft eyes were full of tears.
' My darling, dearest Emma, what is the matter ?
You have been crying. "VMiat is it ? Are you not
well, love ? Has Georgie been troublesome ? '
VOL. I 3
34 MR. BRYANTS MISTAKE
Emma, stretching out her hands, only asked him
sorrowfully where he had been.
Mr. Bryant seated himself on the sofa, drawing
her to the place beside him, and keeping his arm
'My dearest, I have been to Faverton.' She
gave a little cry and pressed her hands to her head,
looking away from him.
' I knew it, Edward.'
What could she mean ? He trembled when a
few moments after, stealing her hand into his and
pressing her brow against his shoulder, she whis-
pered, ' Edward, is she dead ? '
' Dead ? Who ? My darling, what do you
mean ? ' Then, as she looked up with a sudden
light of hope, he added hastily, ' She is ill, Emma.
Little Mary is ill, but '
' I knew it, I^ed,' she interrupted, hiding her
face again with a groan.
' My dear child, how ? ' Had he left that hateful
letter lying about then ? What folly not to have
told her of it at once !
' Edward, I have had a dreadful dream.'
' A dream ? Oh, never mind dreams. Let me
tell you the facts.'
' Ned, don't laugh at me, please. There is a deal
of difference in dreams. I never heed them without
they are of the kind one sees is something particular.
MAR V SMITH 35
It was a dreadful dream. I fell asleep after
dinner, quite unlike usual, and then I dreamed.
I thought I was at home again and sitting beside
my own baby's cradle. And the door opened and
Death came in — oh, so cold and so horrible — and
he carried my child away.'
' But, my love '
' Oh, please, listen. I woke all of a shiver ;
and I thought, Edward, it was our new, our coming
baby, and the reason was, it seemed said to me
somehow, because I had deserted Mary ; I wasn't fit
to be a mother again ! '
* Emma, this is quite morbid ; mere imagination.'
' I thought and thought. And then I thought
maybe it wasn't the new baby I saw in the dream,
but Mary herself. I had been wondering all day
where you had gone. And now you say — oh,
Edward, please let me go and care for her at once ! '
' It is certainly a curious coincidence, Emma.
But Mary is not going to die. She does not look
ill — not very bad. I went up to see her myself.'
' Oh, Ned, did you ? ' cried Emma. ' Oh, you are
good ! you went to see my poor little Mary ! '
He kissed her affectionately. All this was surely
the leading of his good angel. ' Emma, I am cer-
tain she will recover.' And he told her all, with
the exception, of course, of his suspicions of Ann
36 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
In fact, all that seemed absurdity now ; he
was so thoroughly awake to his affection for Emma
and to his duty. He repeated what he firmly
believed, that her child was scarcely ill at all and
would speedily recover. But Emma, frightened by
her dream, was not to be so easily cheered.
' Edward,' said the poor mother, pleadingly, ' don't
say no, please. I want to go to my poor, dear,
little girl at once. If she dies, oh let her die in my
arms. Edward,' I can't bear it. When I think
how I have forsaken her ! Oh, God will forgive me
enough to keep her alive till I come. It kills me
to think how bad I have been to her.'
Mr. Bryant hesitated ; but he allowed himself
to be persuaded. Emma's presence would after
all be the simplest way of circumventing Ann's
cunning designs. And the poor sweet darling was
So they started for Faverton, very affectionate
to each other and both feeling themselves on the
return to goodness from which they had wandered.
Only, as a thinking human being finds it hard to
remain in exactly the same state of feeling for a
long while together, Mr. Bryant had not gone far ere
various other moods had crept into his mind beside a
mere vague desire to do all his duty and to please
his dear, pathetic wife. He reflected that in her
condition of weakness and distress it would be
MARY SMITH 37
most unwholesome for her to go near any person
in a fever ; then he couldn't help wishing Emma
were not so convinced that Mary Smith would
die. She was so prepared for the event, so almost
resigned about it, that he couldn't but remember
it would be undoubtedly convenient. And the only
time she at all seemed to contemplate the possibility
of the child's recovery she made a very awkward
'Edward, I haven't been able to help thinking
from Sarah's last letter that they are getting
tired of having my Mary there. If God pardons
me enough to let her live, won't you, dear, dear
Edward, allow me to bring her home and care for
her myself ? '
Mr. Bryant was silent, and she pushed her
advantage. ' Oh do, dearest Ned. It is killing
me going on so. Maybe they starve and neglect
her. And it is my sin. You don't wish to make
me miserable, or to do what I am sure is wrong,
Edward ? '
* Certainly not, Emma.'
And then, wearing for a moment her girlhood's
bewitching smile, she laid her hand on his and
looked at him with a sparkle in her tear-stained
eyes, and said, 'That maybe is a promise, IS'ed —
dearest Ned ! '
' Oh, Emma ! ' he said, transported ; but he was
38 MR. BR YANT'S MISTAKE
no longer in the submissive days of first love when
every smile of hers was law ; in five minutes he was
considering how he could reduce her to reason on
this point, and best avoid fulfilling the promise he
had not made.
The train was very slow, and Emma, tired
already, became quite worn out. She got rather
hysterical when, on reaching the station at half-
past nine, they found no sort of vehicle to take
them the five miles to Faverton. Mr. Bryant stepped
outside to see what could be done. It was now^
a chilly, drizzling evening. Emma would be wet
through before they reached the farm, and how .
angry every one would be to see her, especially as
she would most certainly arrive sick and miserable
herself, another invalid to give trouble. ' What
a mess I am making of the whole affair,' said
the clergyman to himself, 'to bolster up my con-
science ; I have exposed lur to all manner of risks.
What is to be done ? '
Just then a gig drove up to the station, and a
very fussy old gentleman jumped down with a
letter in his hand.
' Come now, Stationmaster, come now,' he shouted,
' this won't do, you know. I'll report you to the
post-office. Here's the second time I've caught
you making up your mails before the time. You
shall just unseal them again.'
MARY SMITH 39
' If I didn't take time by the forelock, Doctor/
said the Postmaster rudely, ' I'd miss the train.
Happen you didn't take time by the forelock at
Handle's, and that's why you are losing your
Mr. Bryant stepped forward, his heart in his
mouth. ' Excuse me, sir. I am Edward Bryant, to
whom I see that letter in your hand is addressed.
What news have you brought me of my sister-
in-law ? '
* Eh, what, what ? ' said the doctor, dragging the
clergyman to the light and scrutinising him before
handing the letter.
* They gave it me to post,' he said ; ' I under-
stand you are guardian of the child who has just
died, and '
' Died ! ' echoed Mr. Bryant. ' Do you mean
Mary Smith ? '
'Don't know her name. Heard she was an
orphan — an heiress, eh ? as there's such a fuss about
her ! Knew the moment I saw her she wouldn't
recover. Puny, backward child — contrast to Mrs.
Eandle's baby. Fear the woman neglected her foster
child. Natural enough.'
' And her own child, how is she ? ' asked Mr.
' Oh, all right. Not much the matter with her.
You seem fond of babies, sir. I suppose parsons
40 MR. BR YANT S MISTAKE
get used to 'em baptizing 'em — pleasanter job than
vaccinating, though less useful, eh ? Ben Eandle
hasn't your enthusiasm. Wouldn't go near 'em.
Don't seem to care to have the dead one buried —
called it a brat.'
' It would have been better,' said Mr. Bryant,
astonished by his own fluency, ' according to our
first idea, to have allowed my wife to undertake the
orphan. Her mother, Mrs. Smith, a most excellent
woman, was a near relative of Mrs. Bryant's and
an intimate friend. But as Mrs. Eandle had an
infant of the same age, she was considered the
more suitable foster-mother for the first few months.
How is Mrs. Eandle ? '
' Very bad. She has her sister with her.'
' Indeed. My wife has come down with me to
offer assistance. Unfortunately the journey has
knocked her up ; and I am perplexed, finding no
' Take my trap — take my trap,' said the doctor.
' Thank you. To tell the truth, I am doubt-
ing if I ought to let her go farther. You say
she can do nothing for her friend's child, and
that Mrs. Eandle has a nurse already? My wife
is delicate' — and so on in praise of Emma's
unselfishness and insistence on her fragility. Of
course the doctor, who, even in those careless
days, had some conscience about the spread of
MAJ^V SMITH 41
infection, strongly recommended that neither the
clergyman nor his lady should go a step nearer ; and
lie drove off without repeating his offer of the gig.
Mr. Bryant stood irresolute. ' Mary Smith
is dead/ he said to himself; and then some voice
seemed to reply, ' Mary Smith is alive and a
fine healthy child. It is Nannie Eandle who has
died, and you are going to pay that detestable
woman to spread a falsehood.'
What was to be done ?
And now poor Emma tottered out from the
station and put her arm through his. She was
very pale and quiet.
* Edward, I heard you talking to that man.
I heard what he said. My dream spoke true,
Edward. My poor Mary is dead.'
He kissed her. ' Dearest Emma ! '
' I am quite well now, Edward. I can walk
to the house. I must see her once ; and then
perhaps I shall be able to feel it is better God has
*You shall go, my Emma,' he said eagerly.
'Yes, yes — we will go together, and — and — make
amends,' he added vaguely, feeling about, as it
were, for his good angel.
They set forth silently, arm in arm, through the
Emma had not gone far before her tears came
42 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
again, and her limbs began to tremble. After
another five minutes she stopped and drew her
arm from his.
' i^ed, you must go alone/ she said ; ' I cannot
do it. I am too tired.' Then she flung herself
into his arms with a great sob.
' Ned, oh, I think my heart will break.
You'll go for me, won't you, Ned, and you'll
give my poor, dear, neglected darling — my little
Mary — her poor mother's last kiss ! '
THE INSANE BOOT
The Baroness von Eudersthal, an Englishwoman
of fortune and widow of an Austrian diplomatist,
about forty years of age, childless, well preserved,
and handsome, had arrived in Eome for the winter,
and established herself and her retinue on the first
floor of the best hotel. She had an army of couriers,
footmen, and waiting- women ; and she had with her
a young lady, sometimes described as her adopted
daughter and sometimes as her companion. In point
of fact the girl was a distant and obscure relation,
who had lived with the Baroness from childhood, and
been intended for mere servitude and company ; but
who had blossomed into a beauty, and by this time
was a far more imposing and courted personage
than her benefactress. The latter, first astonished,
then displeased, was meditating desperate steps to
avoid permanent deposition. To get the girl married
was of course the simplest way out of the difficulty, •
and there never was a month in which an admirer
failed to appear ; but these naturally did not all mean
46 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
matrimony, and the beauty was fastidious. At twenty
she was still disengaged. The Baroness, with a deep
design in her head, beckoned to her from England
an old suitor of her own — Lord Cookham, second of
his title, a priggish gentleman, indebted for his wealth
and position to a successful father of somewhat vulgar
extraction. ' Precisely the person we want to show
us Eome,' said the Baroness ; and Lord Cookham
arrived with his retinue, which included a physician
and a naturalist, taking up his residence in the same
hotel with the two magnifical ladies. Georgina
thought the gentleman's coronet extremely pretty,
but himself wondrous dull ; and the latter opinion
was fully shared by her admirer then in office, young
Vincent Leicester, only son of Sir Charles Leicester
of Everwell Heights in the County of X , and
of Faverton Hall in the county of W , who had
married a daughter of the Earl of Henslow, and
who was related to the Baroness von Eudersthal.
Vincent was the ordinary tall, healthy, young English-
man, with a somewhat lordly air, and a tendency to
brush insignificant or superfluous people out of his
way. He was at the age for enjoying himself; had
travelled; and of late, having fallen in with his rela-
tive the Baroness, and become enamoured of Georgina
Bryant, (daughter, by the way, of a parson he had
once read with and liked in the long vacation), he
had now followed the two ladies to Eome. For
THE INSANE ROOT 47
Georgina had said to him ' jSTo ' in a ' kiss -and -
come -again' sort of way, which was not very
depressing to a person of courage and self-con-
fidence ; and a sort of cousinly intimacy continued
between the two young people, who were very
happy, not being in the condition of tumultu-
ous passion which makes lovers sick at heart,
and indeed each secretly holding the opinion
that there is considerable charm in the liberty of
single blessedness. All was going well till Lord
Cookham, the walking guide - book, made his
appearance. Georgina then began to exhibit un-
wonted interest in ancient monuments ; and young
Leicester, who had a vast contempt for my lord's
modern title, his information, precision, care of his
health, paltry size, baldness, and ancestral connection
with trade, began to be jealous, moody, and un-
' No,' he said, ' I'll ride to-morrow. I won't go
sight-seeing. Faugh, the bony smell of St. Agnese
is still in my nostrils ! If I were the king, I'd go
out with some sealing wax and shut up the entrance
to your Catacombs, till your nasty old skeletons re-
covered their flesh with other Christians at Doomsday.
There are too many objects altogether at Eome ;
they have the same effect on the mind as the Book
of Proverbs, which is a string of admirable sentiments
and maxims, but exhibited in so disconnected a way
48 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
as to be even ludicrously unimpressive. The Govern-
ment ought to remove all rubbish. What sense or
beauty is there in the collection of stumps nicknamed
Trajan's Forum ? And those filthy old dens by the
river ? and half the churches ? Prayer saying to the
extent of those churches is out of date. Indeed great
part of the town is out of date. The Pope has been
pulled down, and the town must be pulled down by
degrees also. Why not ? Are we to stop making
history in our day ? Where would be the historical
associations of Eome if succeeding generations had
not one and all trampled on the work of the fellows
before ? Your favourite Antinous has lost his arms,
you say ? Well, what are the arms of a statue ?
Can't you always make new ones ? The living
iconoclasts, Goths or whoever they were, were worth
more. You'd have been puzzled to put new arms
upon tluml E'o, no, Eome must not be left a
mere museum for English dilettanti,' ended Vincent ;
' it must improve like other places.'
' Improve ! ' a horrified echo ran round the room
and the Philistine laughed himself. 'Well, it is
improvement,' he maintained ; ' all civilisation is im-
provement, even if it has the defects of its quahties.
A king with a conscience — your popes had none, of
course — is bound to go in for civilisation.'
' Dear me ! have you a conscience ? ' whispered
THE INSANE ROOT 49
' I ? Heaven forbid ! A most inconvenient
appendage. But then I'm not a king. If one
were, upon my word, I think one would have to
grow a conscience.'
At this moment a telegram was handed to
Vincent Leicester. It was from his mother, announc-
ing that Sir Charles was dangerously ill and begging
her son to return to England at once.
That evening, when the Baroness asked Georgina
casually whether she intended to marry Vincent
Leicester, the girl replied, ' Yes, I suppose so.' For
she had reflected that Sir Vincent Leicester entered
into his inheritance was a different person from
the boyish suitor whom she had refused but not
dismissed two months ago. Had he renewed his
proposals this evening she would have accepted
But Vincent's thoughts were all with his parents,
and love-making seemed somehow a frivolity in-
congruous with the solemn scene being enacted by
his father's bedside, and at w^hich he longed to be
present. Choosing a wife was nothing like so
serious a matter as losing a father ; it must wait
till he had a heart at leisure to attend to it and
to other pleasures. *' You will write to me, Geor-
gina?' he said, 'and I will return as soon as I
can ; and then ' She knew what he meant,
but it was an indefinite sort of speech, vexing to
VOL. I 4
53 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
the young lady. She consoled herself by flirting
with Lord Cookham, who had such a pretty coronet,
and was so wise about obelisks.
' Fancy my poor father having been at Everwell ! '
said Vincent ; ' those people at Everwell were
always wanting something, and Blake, the steward,
a regular skinflint, was always deluging their requests
with cold water. None of us had been there for
years. I wonder what took him there now.'
' You'll have to give up wandering, settle down,
and redress grievances,' said Mr. Bryant. Vincent
opened his eyes.
' Who ? I ? Oh, I suppose Blake knows what
They were by this time breakfasting in Vin-
cent's smart bachelor apartments at St. James's ;
the very attractive-looking clergyman having met
the traveller at Victoria, and given him the news
that Sir Charles's sudden illness had already come
to a fatal termination.
' It was like you to come and meet me,' Vin-
cent had said rather hurriedly, putting his arm
through his friend's. 'I will go on by the 11.30,
but I should be glad to say a word to you first.'
THE INSANE ROOT 51
Mr. Bryant had agreed readily, for he was attached
to this young man of family, and had kept up a
sort of desultory acquaintance with him ever since
the reading party in the long vacation. Vincent
too liked the clergyman, though he had rather
forgotten him ; and he had a new reason now for
regarding his old friend with interest. Neverthe-
less his thoughts were too much with his dead
father for hiru to begin to talk of Georgina at once,
and for a long time he was very silent.
*You don't suppose, Mr. Bryant,' he said at
last with some awkwardness, ' that Georgina would
like settling down at Everwell ? '
' Georgina ? What do you mean ? '
' Didn't she tell you ? '
' My Georgina ? Tell me what ? '
' That, — upon my word, there wasn't much to
tell, — that I want to persuade her to come to
Everwell, or wherever it is, to — to be my wife, in
fact,' said Vincent, with a laugh, as Mr. Bryant
did not seem yet to understand.
'My dear boy, what — what an extraordinary
notion ! ' stammered the clergyman.
' Oh, it is impossible,' he said presently, pushing
his plate away with the air of a man who dares
not trifle with forbidden delicacies, and rising from
the table ; ' quite out of the question. I sincerely
hope Georgie recognised that.'
— .^ ftc inmoiS
52 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
' Georgina refused me, but I hope — I think, not
finally. Why do you say it is impossible ? '
' My daughter must look no higher than some
poor curate/ said the clergyman.
' May I ask if you have seen Georgina lately ? '
'No. I am sorry to say I have not. I have
no time for long journeys myself, and her patroness
is exacting and keeps Georgie close.'
' Patroness ? '
'Yes. Georgie is a dependent on her. A poor
relation, a companion, a sort of lady's maid, in fact,'
said Mr. Bryant. Vincent stared.
' I think you had better go and see your
daughter, Mr. Bryant. You don't seem to know
quite the sort of person she is. She is very
beautiful,' said the young man, flushing.
' That may be,' returned the clergyman calmly^
but with fast growing internal excitement.
' And very — fashionable. She refused me because
I wasn't smart enough. She has counts and princes
about her ; at this moment an English peer.'
' You are jesting.'
' An English peer at her feet. Or at the Bar-
oness's. At first I thought she was the attraction.
Her age is the more suitable. I don't see why,'
said Vincent, gravely and awkwardly, ' I shouldn't
run a fair chance among them all, especially if
you, sir, will give me a good word.'
THE INSANE ROOT 53
Mr. Bryant was silent for some time. ' No/ he said
at last, ' I am glad Georgie refused you. My family
is very humble, Sir Vincent, and even Georgina's
mother was at one time working for her living. Your
position is different. You must put it out of your head.'
Perhaps Mr. Bryant's confession of humble origin
was not very emphatic ; at any rate it made no im-
pression on his hearer. It had never occurred to
him that the parson was not a gentleman.
' Why, Georgina and I are almost cousins!' he pro-
tested. 'That is all nonsense, Mr. Bryant, that you are
saying. My mother would be the first person to tell
you so. At any rate you don't refuse your consent ? '
* No, I don't go quite so far as that,' admitted
Mr. Bryant, rather weakly, for he felt dazzled and
confused. ' My daughter is, I regret to say, too in-
dependent of me for my interference in her choice
unless on very grave grounds ; questions of conduct,
for instance,' he ended, firmly.
Vincent rebelled against what he fancied the sacer-
dotal tone of this remark. ' I must take my chance
there,' he said, drily, and was near repeating that Mr.
Bryant did not know his daughter. It was impossible
to imagine Georgina being much interested in ques-
tions of conduct. Soon afterwards they separated.
Everwell's little gray church is on a windy
hill, and not near any house. It seems just
the place for the dead, where the sun at all
54 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
hours falls athwart the graves, and the far-away
sea makes quiet music. ' Bury my dead out
of my sight/ said Abraham ; and it is best so.
In a lonely place where the children will not
play upon the strange grass -grown mounds, nor
happy lovers stumble over some weather-beaten
tombstone, which tells an unheeded record of
* William of this parish dying at seventy -three,'
and Susan his wife quickly following him to the
long home. Will they too, the young William and
the blooming Susan of to-day, who are passing
hand in hand, one day be told of just so, on a
moss-grown, weather-beaten tombstone? It is a
gloomy thought. Away ! Bury my dead out of
my sight! It is better to forget them than to
have such dismal notions starting up at joyous
moments, like a cold hand touching the bride at
the wedding feast. So at least they had thought
at Everwell ; and the little church with its ever-
present congregation of the dead is far away from
the life of men, from the old deserted home of
the Leicesters, Everwell Heights, and farther still
from the rough fishing hamlet at the foot of the
cliff*. Sometimes along the mossy path to the
church comes a sad little procession wending its
way out of the world for a few moments, to leave
some one in the hallowed precincts : a child per-
haps in that little coffin, borne under his arm by
THE INSANE ROOT 55
some tall fisherman, and followed by two young
girls in white — 'tis the custom at Everwell — and
then by the parents and the brothers and sisters,
and perhaps a grandmother labouring along, and
many neighbours, all feeling the way very long, and
talking to each other more than weeping, yet still
in their rude way honouring that strange visitant,
Death, the grisly king. It is the way with the
uncivilised, a funeral is always an event. They
go to church but seldom on other occasions at
To-day poor Sir Charles is to be taken to
Everwell Church and the graves of his ancestors,
who for several generations now have done little
for the place but be buried in it. Sir Charles has
accidentally managed to die there also, and the
fact has startled the people into attention.
' It is God's judgment,' said Alick Eandle ; and
Blake called him an insolent fool ; but the new Sir
Vincent, who had arrived yesterday, looked at the
speaker with some surprised interest, and wondered
a little who he was, and what had given him such
a sore feeling against poor, easy-going, good-natured
Sir Charles. ' It's our way here, Sir Vincent,
to carry our dead with our own hands,' said the
same man ; ' he was a bit hard on us, but maybe
if we had been better acquainted, we might
have served each other. Let him be beholden for
56 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
the last service to us, sir, and maybe you'll shake
hands with us over the dead, and it'll be a
beginning of better times.' Yin cent looked again
at the speaker, whose measured and musical voice
was strangely impressive. He was a slightly-
deformed, irregular -featured young man, lean and
shrunken and pale, but redeemed from ugliness
by a finely arched head and singularly thoughtful,
luminous eyes, which always rested calmly and
boldly on those of the person he was addressing.
His dress was that of an upper-class workman.
' I like your plan,' said Vincent briefly ; dis-
gusting Mr. Blake, who had designed very imposing
funeral arrangements indeed.
And now after a stormy night, slowly, through
the stillness of a gray, cold morning, the people toiled
up the steep road from the village, all subdued
and startled and curious ; and Alick Eandle led
the procession with the eight fishermen in their jer-
seys chosen to be the bearers, and the two young
maids in white cotton dresses, white handkerchiefs
crossed over their shoulders, and white sun-bonnets
shading their faces, each carrying a garland of
ivy twisted with stiff pinkish-white seaweed. In
every funeral procession at Everwell, as far back
as the memory of the oldest man could extend,
there had been thus two white -robed maidens
leading the mourners. No one noticed them to-day,
THE INSANE ROOT 57
except Sir Vincent, who, at first annoyed by the
singularity of their costume, relented on discovering
that the taller of the two was extremely pretty,
and moreover nearly related to the e\ddently im-
portant person, Alick Eandle, who would cer-
tainly take offence if she were dismissed from
office. So the procession all set forth together ;
the young heir and his weeping mother, present
by her own request ; and then the relations and
acquaintances and servants, and then the tenants
and the fishing population. And they passed
along slowly, slowly, to the little graveyard gate,
where the old clergyman, himself a relation of the
deceased, met them and began his task. And the
seaweed garlands went with the costly exotics
which the heartbroken widow had ordered from
a London shop ; and the new young landlord and
his lady mother stood among the villagers. And
the eye of every one, small and great, was fixed
with interest and speculation, with prejudice or
affection, upon young Sir Vincent, to see what
manner of man he was likely to be.
Most unnatural and tedious were to Vincent the
days of gloom and ceremony which followed ;
58 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
equally unpleasant the discovery that he was a
much poorer man than he had ever looked to be.
For he had been little at home, and was not suffi-
ciently intimate with his parents to know that their
frugality was a matter as much of necessity as of
choice. ' Let the poor lad enjoy himself/ Sir Charles
used to say ; always inclined to apologise to Vincent
for his elderly and long childless parents, who knew
nothing about young people and were enamoured of
comfortable dulness. Sir Charles would have gone
without a coat rather than deny his son sixpence ;
so Vincent had not only had all he wanted for
the moment, but had indulged largely in expensive
castles in the air. For instance, he would get rid
of his little yacht and build a bigger with all the
modern improvements ; he would take long voy-
ages ; do some exploring; shoot at big game. The
house at Faverton should be enlarged ; new stables
built, for he must have an unrivalled hunting
establishment. And Georgina — oh, Georgina would
require a blaze of diamonds, bevies of footmen, gold
dishes on her table, golden shoes on immortal horses,
and a milliner's bill six miles long. There could
be only one kind of life suitable to Georgina : an
indoors life of much society and entertainment ;
a London house and a husband in Parliament.
He didn't himself so greatly care for that kind of
thing ; which was as well, for in the middle of his
THE INSANE ROOT 59
extravagant scheming he suddenly entered upon his
inheritance ; discovered that his father had been not
only economical, but almost poor ; and that if he him-
self were starting in life with a competence, it could
prove so only by a very careful adjusting of necessities
and desires. The steam yacht and the matchless
hunters — they were necessities surely ; as to the town
house, the society, and the milliner's bills — Vincent
thought it prudent in writing to Georgina to throw
out a few hints about the downfall of his hopes.
' This is a frightful ramshackle old house, which
has seen so much better days 'as to be barely
respectable. If I had only the money, I should
pull it down and build a commodious family
mansion in the hollow, where the east wind would
not howl in gigantic chimneys. You would agree
with us in liking our nice Httle modern Faverton
Hall much better. At least it does not look so
poverty-struck and importunate. There I had always
a feeling of wealth, which I hope belongs to the walls
and the atmosphere, and is no doubt as comforting as
reality.' Vincent was no great scribe, and not even
a love-letter appeared to come natural to him.
However, he thought these hints rather neat, and
had no suspicion of the very ugly appearance his
under-lined sentence would have in Georgina's eye.
The letter off his mind, he went out to see how
the waves looked on a stormy night. Everwell
6o MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
was not a nice place; it was even more gaunt
and dilapidated and unfriendly than he had expected ;
but as he was here for the nonce he might as well
see it thoroughly, and make acquaintance with a
few of its surly inhabitants. After all they were ' his
own people/ and his family had roots here as it had
not at 'nice little Faverton.' And then it occurred
to him that that pretty girl, Alick Eandle's sixteen-
year-old sister, looked the pleasantest of ' his own
people,' and he would like to see her again.
Taking pleasure in the storm, which seemed
harmonious to his discontented mood, Vincent was
soon on the shore ; and there he found a group of
people gazing apathetically at one of the so-called
' big boats,' which had no business to be putting
into Everwell at all in such weather, and was
consequently now entangled in the waves and the
sunken rocks, in what seemed a perfectly hopeless
manner. The boat indeed upset just as Vincent
reached the group of spectators, who edged away from
him in sulky aversion ; and then these people all
heaved a sigh of relief as at the ending of a show,
and one man moved away homewards, uttering the
opinion of the rest, ' Sarves them fools right.'
Vincent, full of wrath, seized him by the
shoulders, and turned him round again, ' You are
not going to let those men drown within a stone's
throw of land and not raise a finger to help them ? '
THE INSANE ROOT 6i
he said. Who could have supposed adventures
so ready to hand at Everwell ? Vincent organised
and led a singularly unwilling rescue party, which
detested him for his interference, but were awed
into submission when they found what a strong
oar he could pull, and how little he heeded opposi-
tion whether of waves or men. He got a swim too, —
a plunge into the boiling waters after one feeble old
fisherman who had been unable to retain his hold
of the floating spars till the rescue coble had arrived,
and who, unconscious, dead almost, had drifted
away into a whirlpool, where no boat could follow.
Everwell in its boldest flights of imagination had
not conceived that swimming could be brought to
such a pass of effectiveness.
' Seems a chap what knows summat of the sey,'
said one of the fisherman, jerking his thumb at Sir
Vincent, who, having shipped his prize, was now
sitting in the bottom of the overloaded coble and
breathing hard while he tried to pull himself together
during the return voyage ; leaving the navigation to
the men now, and listening with some amusement
and some disgust to the remarks on his performance.
But what applause does hero value save applause
from the eyes of beauty ? Alick Eandle had all
through been Sir Vincent's able lieutenant on land ;
but when the hero leaped on shore again, it was
to find the man attended now by the dear little
62 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
girl, Nannie, his sweet -faced sister, who was wait-
ing meekly with a store of blankets and brandy
and other restoratives for the ill-fated mariners.
Vincent quite lost his hold on present emergencies
when he met the admiring gaze of those lovely
eyes. He looked at ]N"annie more earnestly than
even her admiration justified, and Alick conceived
a distinct annoyance, and taking the blankets from
the girl, he sent her a little roughly away.
Vincent found that he had a great deal to think
about that evening ; so much that Georgina Bryant
was very nearly forgotten, and the decay of his
brilliant designs for spending his imaginary patri-
mony. His thoughts went wandering round and
round these points. First, ' his own people ' were
craven, sordid, unadventurous souls. Secondly,
Alick Handle was a queer, good sort of chap, who
might want setting down. Thirdly, that was a very
unusually pretty girl, and he must see her again.
And so on, the third reflection coming up twice, per-
haps, for one appearance of the others ; till he slept
the sleep of the just, when the just is young and
pretty thoroughly weary.
The boatwreck had undoubtedly increased Sir
Vincent's interest in Everwell ; he would acquaint
himself with the place before settling down in his
home at Faverton ; already he fancied a shade
less aversion in the stare with which the people
THE INSANE ROOT d^
greeted him when he made his appearance in the
village next day. Here he caught sight of Alick
mounting the steep, dirty street from the beach to the
higher part of the hamlet, and curiosity set him to
follow that queer chap. If he knew where Alick
lived, he would know where his pretty sister lived,
a quest that really seemed important enough to
justify the expenditure of an hour or two. When
Alick came to the wooden bridge across the Beck,
at this hour abandoned to the brown fishing nets,
hung upon it to dry, he stopped and whistled, and
presently who should appear but the fair Nannie
herself. She wore a blue petticoat, displaying trim
ankles and little feet cased in clumsy shoes ; a
white apron and a lilac sun-bonnet. Beneath the
latter peeped out delicate rings of — alas ! red hair.
Her clothes — the costume of the place — were all
so clean and fresh that she gave a faint idea
of masquerading ; her slight figure w^as elastic
and graceful, and she walked upright, carrying a
basket upon her head. Alick, it seemed, disapproved
of this, and lifted it off; then a soft laugh broke
on the air and the two stood together talking on
the bridge, their figures reflected on the smooth,
tide-swollen streamlet. Vincent was hidden in the
shadow, and finding himself unobserved, he paused
observant. Alick showed the girl some money, and
they laughed about it — at least Nannie laughed;
64 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
Alick seemed a grave person. Then he separated
one coin from the rest and gave it to her. She
appeared to expostulate, and the man said a little
impatiently, ' N'o, ISTannie, it ain't over - much.
The tenth is the Bible proportion.' She shook
her pretty head and looked up at him with vener-
ation. Then they separated after some further
disputing and laughing about the basket ; Nannie
gaining her point and marching off triumphantly
with it planted upon her bonnet and held on by her
hand, while she peeped over her shoulder at the
retreating Alick, who had been forced at last into a
smile. Any dispassionate person ought to have per-
ceived some sort of sweethearting in all this. But
Vincent had an idee fixe. He had decided in his
own mind, and did not propose to reopen the ques-
tion, that this damsel was the ugly little hunchback's
sister. He could have declared that Alick himself
had furnished him with the information.
Sir Vincent emerged out of the shadow as Nannie
passed him, and she made a curtsey and blushed
very much, remembering in what a silly way she
had been behaving. Now Nannie's blush was an
extremely delicate and pretty one.
' I hope you didn't catch cold last night ? '
inquired Sir Vincent, with a wild desire to say
' ' Oh, sir/ said Nannie softly, getting still rosier, ' it
THE INSANE ROOT 65
was you — you we hoped that for ! Oh, sir, we felt
so proud of you ! '
Vincent laughed and wanted to stay talking to
her. But he had discerned his uncle Frederick
Kane coming round the point, and felt a need of
' Are you going to look at the sea ? '
' No, sir, I haven't time to-night,' said Nannie.
' You go sometimes then ? '
' Yes, I like to get far out on the scar and watch
the waves,' she replied; and Vincent suggested to
himself that some evening he too would go and
see how the waves looked from the scar.
' Good-bye,' he said, raising his hat, as if she
had been a lady, and Nannie blushed, curtseyed,
and went on her way. After a time he ventured
a glance. Nannie was surveying a stout woman
in front of her and had stopped, shading her eyes
from the sea sparkle with one hand, while the
other steadied the basket. That pretty attitude
showed her rounded figure to much advantage, and
the young man watched her till she had moved out
of his sight.
Well, that interesting episode was over : what
next ? Vincent strode after Alick, and caught him
up on the road above the village, just where was
the baker's shop and post-office, and behind it
the wide valley leading to a farm long unlet. On
VOL. I 5
66 MR. BR Y ant's MISTAKE
the other side of the way was a quaint little house
painted pink, with a very overhanging roof of
red and weather-beaten tiles. The back windows
looked down into the sea, though between the
house and the actual precipice a narrow path from
the village climbed up, to meet the road a few
yards farther on. This house, liable, one would
think, to be swept away bodily by a storm, was
chiefly remarkable for its front garden, where
grew rows of odd little half-dead plants, all care-
fully labelled and divided from each other by
minute stone walls. Grubbing in this garden was
an elderly, ragged-haired man, in his shirt-sleeves,
and by his side an old lady in a short skirt,
a man's coat, and a felt hat, who through two pair
of spectacles was examining a dried — a very
much dried — fish. About the whole premises
was a subtle odour of things strange, aromatic,
pungent, withered, and nasty.
' Sir, that is Dr. Verrill,' explained Alick, gravely;
'if you'll come in he'll be pleased to make your
knowledge.' To which Vincent, in search of amuse-
ment, agreed ; the more readily that he had observed
another person, already known to him, sauntering
round the garden and occasionally stopping to kneel
before one of the plants and examine it with short-
sighted eyes. This gentleman carried two long
pins, each with a buzzing fly impaled upon it ; and
THE INSANE ROOT 67
he was habited in black, being Sir Vincent's cousin,
the Eev. Henry Septimius Leicester.
' Oh, AUck ! ' cried the doctor, jumping up, ' you
are late ; the light is declining. Quick, show me
what you have brought, and get to work. The
blossom will not last till to-morrow. How do
you do, sir ? I'll attend to you in a moment, but
the claims of science are imperative.'
The intruder bowed, and looked on w^hile
Ahck unfolded a roll of paper, displaying a
large and effective water-colour drawing of a
plant with glossy leaves and small purple
flowers. In addition to the main picture were
separate and colossal representations of a single
leaf, a seed, etc., from the same plant, with a long
description underneath in illuminated writing, the
whole thing framed by a running pattern border
about an inch wide, also painted and designed from
the same flower.
The parson and the old lady with the flsh
knelt before this production, while Ahck crouched
behind holding it open, and Vincent stood beside
him, much inclined to laugh. The doctor uncere-
moniously removed one pair of spectacles from the
old lady's nose and transferred them to his own ;
then he produced a withered leaf from his pocket
and compared it with the depicted one, shaking his
head ; then with compasses measured the distance
68 MR. Bryant's mistake
between the leaf joint and the calyx, and nodded ;
then began to read aloud the botanical dissertation,
explaining the detail of the plant.
' My brother is writing a book,' whispered the old
lady to the stranger, ' and this is one of the illustra-
tions. Alick has finished four of them. He is likely
to be a great painter. The book is on Vegetarianism
and the culture of edible herbs. The most original
portion will deal with the subject of Fungus.
That is a very beautiful specimen you smell from
the rockery. It is Polypore Merisma Sulfureus, and
has been used heretofore as a physic for dogs. But
we dined off it yesterday, and found it made an
admirable pie, from which neither of us have ex-
perienced further ill effects than a slight sensation
of nausea at the moment of eating, which can
be obviated on the next occasion by doubling the
flavouring of allspice and marjoram.'
The Eev. Septimius now spoke. ' Your handling
of the brush is improved, Alick. You do me as
your master credit. The border design is good. It
should be adaptable for the wall-paper I wish you
to design for my bedroom.'
' Alick,' said the doctor, * allow Sir Vincent to take
your place. The light is changing. Get to your
work at once.'
' But the fungus, brother ? ' cried the lady; ' can
we ensure so perfect a specimen again ? ' The
THE INSANE ROOT 69
smell from the rockery, be it observed, was not
Alick rose to his feet, folded his arms, and spoke
in a slow, distinct utterance, unexpectedly interesting.
' Excuse me, miss ; I never engaged to draw that
stinking stuff from life. Sii% you'll have to make
the wall-paper yourself; and doctor, begging your
humble pardon, I am going to waste no more time
on this work.'
* Mercenary ! ' said Dr. Yerrill, unmoved.
' Mercenary ! ' cried the young man. ' Sir, I'd
have taken the same pains for no money at all, if
it had been a work I could see a blessing in. It
might have been a blessing to set folk eating fruits
God made for their good, which are cheap to be got
and easy to grow, and can be kept down without
allspice and marjoram. AVe've had nothing of that
sort yet. And you'U drive 'em meat -devouring
again, with the stench of your polypore pies, and
poison a few, who don't digest so easy as you ; just
as Sir Vincent here is giving some of 'em typhus and
setting the most of 'em gin-drinking by kneading their
bread with the sea, and boiling their broth in the beck,
which is the common wash-tub and the common sewer.'
Vincent raised his eyebrows. Then Alick,
producing the gold coins which he had shown
Nannie on the bridge, turned again to Dr. Verrill.
' I have kept on with the painting, doctor, because
70 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
you had paid me beforehand for a dozen. That
was in the days before I was regenerate '
* Tut/ said the clergyman.
' And maybe it was no more sin to me than any
of my other filthy rags. I have kept at it against
my conscience this many a day, because I couldn't
give you the moneys back. To-night I have them,
and I hand them to you now, sir, and pray you to
deliver me from a bondage which has grown to me
a bondage to the devil.'
Upon this the old lady sprang to her feet, and
shaking her stick at the recusant, cried in cracked
and trembling tones, ' Young man, it's the devil has
taken possession of your soul. You have inherited
a talent from your grandfather, who painted the
family portraits at the Heights' — (Vincent shuddered:
that very morning he had condemned to the stake
certain villainous representations of his progenitors
painted by a local artist, and hung up beside the
three Vandycks and half - dozen Sir Joshuas,
deservedly prized by the family) — 'which with
cultivation might make you the head of what they
call the Academy in London ; and you are deliberately
thwarting your Maker's intentions, and what is
worse, you are thwarting the intentions of my
brother's Maker also. What value will there be in
his book without the plates ? And to what purpose
have we spent years in the cultivation of these
THE INSANE ROOT 71
delicate vegetables if the world is not to reap the
fruit of our experiments ? '
' Miss/ replied Alick, firmly, ' if you come to the
purposes of the holy Maker, I would have you know
He never meant them flowers to grow at Everwell.
It's a sin to murder 'em ; and it's a sin to go lusting
after and tasting the strange meats you make pies
of, which was given for a curse upon the ground and
a punishment to man, as it's plain to be seen from
their unclean juices and abominable stinks. No,
sir, I ain't a meat-eater myself ; but I've read in my
Bible as the kingdom of heaven is not meat and
drink ; and I will spend no more holy hours fiddling
and faddling, and altering, and copying, and spoiling,
what at best is a question of meats and drinks, and
has nothing to say to righteousness, and peace, and
joy in the Holy Ghost.'
' Then you can begin the wall-paper at once,'
said the Eev. Septimius.
' Oh ay, the wall-paper ! ' retorted Alick, turning
on him ; ' it's fitting, is it, as God's minister should
be spending his days thinking on wall-papers when
the flock is starving around him for soul -bread,
forgetting the very sound of God's name except
in their curses, and losing their hope and their
happiness, and their manliness, and their health
in the dregs of Satan's vice. That's none of
his business, I suppose ? Look here, Mr. Leicester,
72 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
Dick Boulter's lass drowned herself a fortnight agone,
or maybe Dick drowned her ; or her lover ; either
of 'em, one's as bad as the tother, and the place
is handy for drowning folk. You didn't know it.
You don't care now you do know it. There's a
many wenches in the place as stained as that one,
and there's a many lads as wicked and murderous
as Dick, and you know nought about 'em. You are
thinking of your wall-papers.'
' Come,' interposed Vincent, ' this is none of your
' No, sir, it's none of my business, that's just it.
It's the minister's business ; but because he don't do
it, it lays heavy on my heart, and I can get no
rest night nor day for thinking of the uncared-for
wickedness of the men and women I live among,
who have no one to say to 'em, " Turn ye, turn ye,
why will ye die ?" ' There was a short silence, while
the earnest melancholy voice still seemed to ring
in the ears of the hearers. Septimius alone was
unmoved ; he had caught an earwig, and was trying
to fix it under his pocket microscope.
Just then Alick happened to look away in the
direction of the post-office, and he saw a stout,
respectably-dressed woman, leading a child, issue
from it with a savings bank book in her hand.
His whole countenance changed ; breaking from the
group and bounding over the gate, he confronted
THE INSANE ROOT 73
the woman, the same person, as Vincent now per-
ceived, who had been watched by pretty Nannie.
Wlien Alick appeared in this sudden manner, she
screamed, and dropping her book, began to run as
fast as fat, ageing, and rather tipsy legs would let
her. Alick caught her by the arm and let her
talk unanswered, while he picked up the book and
examined it. Then he dragged her back to the
post-office. After a few minutes the man returned
to the botanical garden ; he was pale now and
' I'll do you the red flower, doctor, and maybe
a few more of 'em. Seems I can't pay back the
money yet. Maybe I never shall.'
' I don't want your money, boy,' said the little
doctor, angrily. ' Your mother seems to have a
use for it — you'd better keep it for her.'
' It ain't for her I'd keep it back, sir,' said
Alick, * but for the little uns. We've saved up,
father and me, for years for 'em — schooling and
leather and tidy gowns for the lasses. She's
muddled most of it away. I suppose I'll do you
the dozen, doctor, like I undertook.'
'We might petition the doctor,' said Vincent,
' that the poly pore should not be one of them.'
Then Alick went away, leading the now tearful
woman and the frightened child ; and Vincent asked
his kinsman what sort of a chap this Alick really was.
74 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
' Oh, daft/ answered the clergyman, ' quite daft,
poor fellow. Harmless so long as he isn't con-
' Quite daft,' sighed Miss Verrill ; ' if it were
not so, he might be a great painter.'
' Quite daft,' echoed the doctor ; ' wastes his
time psalm-singing when he might be an apostle of
Vincent glanced from one to the other of the
three, and wondered if daftness were in the Everwell
air. Perhaps among his other vegetables the doctor
had grown the ' insane root which takes the reason
' Does he belong to the place ? '
* Yes ; at least has been here from a child. The
mother (fine, healthy, clever woman, drinks her gin
with a stomach might digest my new antidote
perfectly) was born and bred here. Some land-
lubbing chap married her and took her off for a
year or two. But she came back a widow, and
married Leach. He was a poor chap without a
liver, but a better workman than Alick, who is a
Jack-of-all-trades ; and they held their heads high
till Leach died, and Alick took a liking for prayers
and his mother for gin.'
' I think the girl told me she came from Taver-
ton?' said Vincent.
Dr. Verrill came up very close, and holding the
THE INSANE ROOT 75
tortoiseshell spectacles to his eyes, stared through
them at the young man with an annihilating sneer.
' I never heard of Faverton/ he said in a tone of
the profoundest contempt.
Decidedly Everwell was getting interesting.
The next day was Sunday, and Mr. Kane, Lady
Katharine's brother, who said he liked inspecting
his fellows, went to church. Vincent contented
himself with a view of the congregation as it came
up from the village. He was looking for Nannie
of course, and presently she came, following the
widow Leach ; hanging on Alick's arm and surrounded
by boys and girls of all ages. She was well guarded ;
no chance of a word with her. But Sir Vincent
smiled, and Nannie flushed as she dropped her
curtsy. How much did Alick see of all that, and
why did Sir Vincent think so much about it after-
wards ? ' I begin to think,' he said to himself, ' that
1 have eaten of the insane root too.'
At luncheon Mr. Kane would talk of the Leach
family, and the beauty of the red-haired girl. This
gentleman took a malicious pleasure in making people
uncomfortable, and pursued the subject chiefly be-
76 MR. Bryant's mistake
cause he detected in his nephew a slight impatience
of it. Vincent was ready to fling his uncle under
the table ; but he began to wish most heartily that
he had gone to church himself, and had not left the
pretty creature to the stare of only those irreverent
eyes. In the afternoon he shut himself up in the
library and nursed an ill-humour. Was he going
to relapse into boredness then ? Heaven forbid !
He studied the ordnance map and the plans of his
estate. He wished himself at Faverton, or elk-
hunting in Sweden, or love-making in Eome. He
frowned discontentedly over Georgina's last letter.
He had nothing to do ; if he went out there was no-
where to go. There was not a horse in the stable
fit to ride ; not a soul in the place fit to speak to.
His mother, dear and honoured, was still absorbed
in her grief His uncle he detested. Dr. Verrill
was a buffoon ; Septimius a fool ; Alick Eandle a
Vincent thought of the illustrations for the
vegetarian's great book, and wondered if Alick
were an embryo artist. Dr. Verrill had called him
a Jack-of-all-trades ; that was the usual profession
of a genius who had not hit upon his vocation.
Why didn't some one snatch him from Methodism
and have him taught to paint ? Why didn't his
friends who believed in him, subscribe and send
him to London ? ' Three years in a drawing-school,
THE INSANE ROOT 77
how much would it cost ? ' said Vincent, still ex-
travagant in his schemes ; * he might excel his
grandfather, I do think. Shouldn't be surprised if
I did that myself after three years' instruction.
Nannie wouldn't want to go and live with him in
London, I suppose ? ' Then he remembered there
are trains to London, and that one can visit one's
friends there with much less conspicuousness than
in a small place like Everwell. Vincent looked
round, half expecting to see his uncle ; that sugges-
tion must surely have come from him. But instead
there entered to him Alick Handle in person, and
Sir Vincent jumped up, feeling guilty, he knew not
Alick had a glass of water in his hand : very
yellow and muddy it looked. ' It's from the beck,
sir,' he explained ; ' I brought it to show you.'
Vincent, much oppressed, held it up critically to
the light, smelt it, frowned at it ; tried to look wise
and decently interested.
' Taste it, sir,' pursued Alick ; ' it ain't so nasty
as Miss Verrill's fungus.'
'Your comparison,' said Vincent, setting the glass
down, 'has destroyed the little relish I had. Perhaps
the people here like a flavour in their drink ? They
don't all get typhoid, I suppose ? '
' You are mortal afraid of typhus, sir, if you
won't take one sup of what your folk drink by
78 MR. Bryant's MISTAKE
the gallon/ returned Alick, severely, having no mind
to the sin of flippancy.
' I am mortal afraid of a bad taste/ said
Vincent ; ' pray, do you drink it yourself ? '
'No, sir, not as a habit. And I've been down
with a fever once or twice. But if I was you, and
my people had no better, I'd at least take my share
for once. Did you never hear of David, sir, and the
cup of fresh water he poured on the ground, when
it was brought from the well of Bethlehem for him ? '
'The essence of those pretty stories,' said the gentle-
man, blandly, 'evaporates when they are imitated.
I'll send a specimen to an analyst if you like, and
I will investigate the cause of the beck's evil smell,
and the reason why the girls can't dip their pails
higher up the stream. All that might be of some
use. If I drink this, it will only be to please you :
by gratifying your lust for revenge, I suppose.'
And with a wry face, and a laughing eye fixed on
the oddity, he swallowed the potion. Sir Vincent's
laughing eye was not a thing Alick understood.
Still there was some subtle attraction for him
about his young landlord which kept him hopeful.
Vincent, too, liked Alick ; and after listening to
some preliminary abuse of Septimius, allowed him-
self to be taken out to see the condition of the
parish on a Sabbath afternoon, — clear proof of
neglect on the part of its spiritual head.
THE INSANE ROOT 79
'An expedition of a piece with your glass of
dirty water, I suppose ? ' said Vincent, rising, and
glad of something to do.
' Sir,' said his guide, reprovingly, 'you'll please not
to come laughing.'
* I don't see why you look down on your neigh-
bours so much,' said Vincent, as they went out ; ' I
grant you they seem rather a rough lot, and a bit
wanting in spirit, one or two of them. But a
man who takes his life in his hand and spends
his days in incessant toil may, I think, be quite
as pretty a fellow as you or 1, who sit at home
Alick thought he discerned a tendency to per-
functoriness. He replied eagerly —
' Ay, sir, yon's the conclusion a fine gentleman,
who has a grand house, and the world's love, and a
flesh diet, and wine maybe, comes to naturally.
You don't know nought about the poor, and you've
a good heart, and you think : " Oh, poor chaps,
they're worse off than me, and God ought to judge
'em easier. They get along wonderful considering
their odds, and I won't notice their sins too much.
Give/em some beer." That's what you say. Blake
now, he don't notice nothing but their sins. You'd
thmk they was de\ils, not men, to hear him talk.
But neither the one nor the tother of you think it's
your business. But it is, sir ; it's your business, and
8o MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
you'll have to give an account of it some day/
ended Alick, impressively.
He led the way from one den to another of that
excessively dirty village, — dirtier, both actually and
metaphorically, than it had any right to be on that
fair hillside, away from the seething corruptions of
great cities, where the power of the strong redoubles
the weakness of the weak. The new landlord saw
bare walls and gaping roofs, haunts of fever and
sinks of vice, — all very terrible to Alick Eandle's
heated imagination. Alick was stung by the bad
name Everwell had acquired on the coast, and wore
magnifying glasses when he looked at the evils
round his home, — dirt and rags, starvation and much
disease, free love, fighting; cursing, and endless
drink. With an air of melancholy triumph he led
his landlord from gloomy hole to noisome corner,
and could not imagine what the man was made of
that he inspected it all with an air of mere curiosity
and of almost amused toleration.
' I have seen many strange races,' he said,
lighting a cigar, 'and here I have found one
barbarous and heathen people more.'
' Sir ! sir ! ' ejaculated the carpenter.
' It is all like Miss Verrill's polypore pie. /
don't want to eat it, but it amuses me immensely
that any one should be found to prefer that flavour.'
' Sir ! sir ! ' cried Alick again, ' if these are your
THE INSANE ROOT 81
thoughts, all my hopes are vain, and you'll only be
one evil-doer in Everwell the more.'
' Evil-doer ? Oh, humbug. Live and let live,
that's my plan.'
' But it's your own property, sir,' cried Alick.
' Yes, yes,' returned Vincent, impatiently ; ' don't
you see I haven't looked into the matter, and I don't
know what to think of it ? It's only fools who talk
and act when they don't understand.'
And he strode on again, wishing to get rid of the
importunate Alick, and saying to himself, ' Everwell
is a pigsty ; but Cookham and Company bid one
before all things preserve ancient monuments. And
what can any one do without money ? '
' Look there, sir ! ' said Alick, interrupting his
meditations. A barrow laden with pig-wash and
the refuse of herrings was toiling up the steep lane,
and drawn by a starved and dying donkey, flogged
unmercifully by one of the lean, large-headed failures
of children, only just clever enough to guide the
creature's steps. Blood poured from the beast's bony
sides, and he shook in every limb, while still the
blows and accompanying curses fell fast and thick.
* Look there, sir ! ' said Alick, in whose eyes shone
a sort of wild delight that the white-handed gentle-
man should see the sordid exhibition. Vincent
watched without sign of emotion. The beast,
patient, uncomplaining, doing his best, made one
VOL. I 6
82 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
superasinine struggle, slipped and fell — to rise no
more. A barrel rolled from the rickety cart, and
poured out its unsavoury contents. The boy uttered
a yell of dismay ; then with the butt end of the
whip would have struck the dying brute across the
eyes, but that Vincent, without a word, knocked the
weapon up with that elegant little cane of his, at
which Alick had been inwardly railing, as of a piece
with the cigar and the general indifference.
On one side of the street was the beer-house ;
at this moment there reeled out of it a drunken
man, his step guided by a slattern, just one degree
soberer. She laughed at the prostrate animal and
the terrified child. But the man, after a stupid
gaze, seemed to recognise with sobering effect that
the cart and the donkey and the boy belonged to
himself He broke from the woman, and rushing
forward, seized the child by the hair, and snatching
the whip, mid a volley of execrations, beat him, as
he himself had beaten the dying animal. The boy
screamed, then turned white and sick and silent.
The woman laughed again.
Vincent intervened now, delivered the child, and
handed him to Alick. In an instant, like flies
round a carcass, the people in tlie drinking shop
and from the doorsteps had gathered round their
landlord with undisguised hostility in word and
look. Vincent folded his arms and stood in the
THE INSANE ROOT 83
middle of the group, looking from one to the other,
his lip curling, ready to defend himself and the boy
and the dead donkey if need be. The crowd in
their drunken state had lost any awe they might
naturally feel for their landlord, and remembered
only that he had ' come interfering,' and that they
hated all gentlefolks, and this one and his fathers in
particular ; nevertheless he had settled the boy's
tyrant in a manner that made no one very anxious
to be the first assailant. ' Well ? ' said the gentle-
man at last, ' may I ask what you want ? '
So far Alick, very much astonished by his
apathetic scholar's leap into action, had merely
watched the progress of events. He advanced now
with the intention of making his well-known and
authoritative voice heard. But he was prevented.
A big young fellow, who seemed at once more
sober and more fierce than the rest, and on whom
Vincent had been keeping his eye, suddenly faced
round and dealt Alick, who was thin and weak and
familiar, the blow in the face which he had feared to
give the gentleman. Vincent, his eye flashing, cleared
himself a passage through the crowd and felled the
assailant. There was a little movement among the
spectators, which told they could understand and
reverence strength of limb if nothing else. Vincent
laughed. ' You think I am going to beat you ? I
see your ears going back like a whipped spaniel. I
S4 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
do not strike a man when he is down. You shall
get up presently ; and then you shall apologise to
Alick Eandle, or, by Heaven, I will take you by
the collar and march you off myself to the nearest
police station and give you in charge for assault.'
And then an old man, who was very drunk,
chimed in with language so unsavoury that one of
the women begged Alick's intervention.
' Stop that ! ' said Vincent ; and as the offence
was repeated, ordered two of the bystanders, whom
he remembered having conquered on the boat-
wreck night, to remove the offender. There was a
moment's hesitation, followed by obedience, and
Vincent threw a reassuring smile at Alick, who was
looking quite bewildered and alarmed.
Vincent now allowed his victim to rise, and bid
him go and ask Mr. Eandle's pardon, which was done ;
while the gentleman, brushing the dust from his
sleeve, stood in the middle of the crowd, afraid of
him now. He then made a speech — the last thing
be had intended to do.
' Now listen. I hope that is the last time I
shall have to play policeman to my own people.
You have seen I can strike, and you have seen the
kind of thing I strike for. Take care how you pro-
voke me again. Now I should like to shake hands
with each one of you. I am a human being too,'
said Vincent, with a smile ; ' what is there in
THE INSANE ROOT 85
my appearance to warrant these scowls you treat
me to ? Come, let us all drink each other's healths
before we part '
But here Alick Eandle interrupted. ' No, sir,
there's been a deal too much drinking already ; I
hope you'll set your face against that. We'll have
no drinking of healths to-night, if you please, sir.'
After handing magnificently a large coin to the
boy of the donkey, Vincent retired with Alick, the
crowd watching them silently as long as they were
' Sir, sir,' said the reformer in a tone of distress,
' I doubt it was the old Adam brought your fists out
For all his impatience with Alick, Vincent
Leicester had not despised that excursion. He was
silent and moody all the evening, perhaps feeling
growing pains. That tiresome old question was
forcing itself on his notice, 'Am I my brother's
keeper ? ' I suppose it was something to do with
this question that set him, after this studying to
Lady Katharine's awe, horrible tomes on political
economy, land improvement, the laws of property,
and the investment of money. He frowned, and
bit his nails over them, and grew surly ; and his
gentle mother took them in horror. But he per-
severed. He conversed also much with Blake, who
was repugnant to him, but had good knowledge of
86 MR. BRYANTS MISTAKE
business ; and with Mr. Kane, who could discuss a
theory far more ingeniously than his nephew ; and
always much with Alick, who knew the place, was per-
fectly definite in his views, and impressed Vincent a
great deal more than either the one or the other knew.
And the son was deaf to all Lady Katharine's hints
that he had been long enough now at Everwell, and
would be able to settle his affairs far more comfort-
ably ' at home.' It was all rather wearisome ; but
Vincent Leicester had begun to grow, and was
sending down roots slender enough as yet, but
which were taking hold of the ground here in Ever-
well. It was not a kindly soil, and you are not to
expect that the first green upward shoots will be
very straight, or very robust, or very fair.
Gardante, Parlante, Jocante, the first three of those
gallant six whom Britomart disarmed and took
into her service ; — Vincent Leicester had not as yet
come to fair fight with any but Number One,
that 'jolly person and of comely vew,' whom he
now claimed as his liegeman and turned to account
whenever opportunity served. Eising one morning
more than usually bold and for adventure athirst.
THE INSANE ROOT 87
he resolved to challenge and disarm Parlante, the
stout knight who now headed the defence of Castle
Joyeous. Jocante would stand or fall with his
brother ; but far be it from me to hint that Sir
Vincent had any designs for to-day against the fourth
great champion; he who did himself even to Britomart
'most courteous shew/ and who therefore hides in
the background till his time for action comes, and
dislikes all braying of trumpets, concourse of spec-
tators, empty parade, and haste alarming and un-
seemly. Yet is he a highly formidable personage,
and had Vincent been aware that he also would
have to be encountered, he might have thought
twice before engaging with the less redoubtable
brethren. But what young and venturesome knight,
yearning ' to prove his puissance in battell brave,'
was ever renowned for foresight and caution ? He
saw the dim, mist-encircled form of Castle Joyeous
before him, and he had a fancy for Parlante as a
liegeman. Armed with spear and shield, he mounted
his steed and addressed himself to battle.
Which is to say, that one day Sir Vincent Leicester
called at Mrs. Leach's house with its little shop and
decent parlour ; asking indeed for his friend Alick
the carpenter (whom he guessed to be absent), but
with the intent to have not only a comfortable look
at, but a comfortable talk to, the beautiful Nannie.
The Leaches, of course, pertained to the highest
.88 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
Everwell society, Alick being the only member of
the family who mixed with the seafarers, and that
as a missionary. Mrs. Leach, at home, was so tidy
and respectable that Vincent did not for a moment
recognise the woman he had seen with Alick in dis-
grace at the post-ofifice ; the inevitable Jimmy was
pulling at her gown, and the neat, bright little par-
lour seemed to the inexperienced visitor crammed
with children of all ages. Nevertheless he noted at
once that Nannie sat by the window near the linnet
and the row of flower-pots, reading a book. Mrs.
Leach was voluble, and chattered a great lamenta-
tion over her eldest son when Vincent asked for him.
'Dear, dear, the trouble we have had all our
lives with that poor boy. You see, sir, with poor
folk like we it makes a difference if a man can't
work hard, and him often requiring the doctor too.
La now, sir, you thought he was rich with all those
workmen ? that's the way poor Alick takes people
in. It ain't in him to be quite truthful like his
mother. Alick keeps half those lads out of charity;
and among 'em they about do the work and earn
the wage of one good workman like my poor second
husband, gone to glory with my first one. I don't
like to say it to Alick, sir ; it hurts his feelings, but
what with his weakness and his head, and all he
gives to the missionaries, we're getting poorer and
poorer, so my husbands would weep in their graves
THE INSANE ROOT 89
to see us. My poor Leach did most of the handy
work of the place, but Alick, what with his health,
couldn't keep his stepfather's customers. There's
Henderson, Blake employs him, and John Lamprey,
Mr. Sandford's got to think a deal of him. "Mother,"
says Alick, " it's spite against me, I do believe," for
we are pious people, sir, such as never was pleasing
in the world, like the Bible says. But I don't like
to answer him, " My poor lad, it may be spite, and it
may be piety, and it may be as you're a born hartist
(which he is, sir) like your grandfather, but it's your
head as well." He ain't fond of work, sir, that's
where it is. Only this morning I heard him say of a
new linen cupboard for Mrs. Sandford, as it was
" soulless." That's a bad word, sir, for a man to use
about his business.'
Vincent had heard one phrase in ten. He was
looking at Nannie.
All this time she had sat with eyes bent demurely
on her book ; but a smile was growing on her lips,
which the visitor rashly surmised to have some con-
nection with his presence. It was really caused,
however, by admiration of Mrs. Leach's exaggeration,
and a fear that the gentleman was credulous. ' Alick's
fond of that word " soulless," ' she said, suddenly,
raising her charming face and looking at Sir Vincent;
* he doesn't mean no harm by it ! ' Vincent crossed
to her end of the room at once.
90 MR. BR YANT S MISTAKE
At this moment Mr. Sandford himself came into
the shop, to whom went Mrs. Leach. Jimmy, hav-
ing strayed out of the room, tumbled downstairs and
set up a howl, the bigger children ran to his assist-
ance, and Nannie was left alone with the gentleman,
and the baby, who was too small to be abandoned.
Could Fortune have been kinder ? Vincent was so
pleased that it was some moments before he remem-
bered even to speak.
* I suppose Alick does whatever you tell him ? '
he said at last.
' I, sir ? '
' Yes ; he couldn't refuse you anything.'
The girl, evidently unused to this tone, raised
two wondering eyes to his ; she said gravely, ' Sir ?
Vincent had been marvelling at her hair already,
which was soft and shining and curly ; not carroty
in the least, but of that rare dark red the shadows
of which have a hint of purple ; now he saw with
fresh delight what indeed he already knew, that her
eyes were not gray like Alick's, but of the real dark
blue which most kittens and babies lose at a month
old ; under dark lashes and very fine, arched eye-
brows. That grave little reply gave him a sense of
having said something stupid, and he changed his
tone, and asked her what she was reading so dili-
gently. He had expected some flimsy romance or
collection of hymns, accordant with the family piety.
THE INSANE ROOT 9^
But the cream-coloured pamphlet proved to be nothing
less than a number of Mr. Euskin's Fors Clavigera.
*We got it from the pedlar/ explained iSTannie
apologetically, in answer to Vincent's surprise.
'Alick thought we ought to read it, because it's
written to the workmen of Great Britain. Alick
thought it would be tracts which would do to lend
about. But Mr. Ptuskin doesn't seem quite a tract
writer. Alick doesn't believe he knows anything
about workmen ! ' she ended, indignantly.
* Isn't it rather dull reading for you ? ' asked
Vincent, smiling at her confidentially, for he remem-
bered that first smile of hers, and saw a quaint,
slightly humorous expression about the corners of
her pretty mouth, which pleased him.
' Oh no, sir ! I like it because it seems all about
a different kind of life than ours. There are some
such pretty lines here by a Mr. Pope about some
horses who wouldn't go any farther because their
master was dead, but grew like monuments on a
hero's grave. I liked that.'
' I will lend you that book of Mr. Pope's. You
will find some pretty stories in it,' said Vincent.
' Oh, thank you ! ' cried Nannie, clasping her
hands in an ecstasy.
There was a silence, and Vincent was much
afraid she was going to run away after the stout
mother. ' Show me some of Alick's drawings,' he
92 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
said, desperately. ' Miss Verrill says he ought not to
be a workman but a painter.'
' Oh ! ' cried Nannie, jumping up, for he had hit
upon an exciting subject, ' that is what Alick used
to wish — wish — till he made himself sick with
wishing ! Now he has taken to believe it idle and
idolatrous, but I know — I hnow he will never be
happy till he does that and nothing else.'
' What ! flowers for Dr. Verrill ? '
' Oh no ! His other pictures are much more
beautiful.' There was a case of Alick's productions
under the little sofa, and so built in with irrelevant
and cumbrous articles that Vincent had to assist in
getting it out, which brought their two heads very
near together for a moment, and the exertion made
the young girl very becomingly rosy.
* Are they not mry beautiful ? ' cried Nannie
reverentially, her eyes glowing as she handed one
picture after another to the visitor.
And Vincent was really interested, not only by
the intrinsic merit of the sketches, but because they
gave a regular biography of the artist, the point of
Alick's 'conversion' being plainly marked. The
drawings of earlier date than that event were studies
as of one seriously desiring progress ; bits of flowers,
or waves or buildings, hands or feet, ears or noses,
evidently sketched from life and repeated again and
again in the pursuit of perfection ; then came a few
THE INSANE ROOT 93
rough compositions on brown paper or old cardboard,
— mostly scenes of men drinking, fighting, and such
like, familiar enough at Everwell. But the draw-
ings executed after he became ' serious ' were either
practical designs for decoration or painstaking illus-
trations of the Bible, the expressions of the faces
treated with exaggerated care, and the moral of the
particular scene depicted brought into high relief,
and generally ^\Titten as well on a scroll in some one's
hand, or appearing in flame, on sky or wall, in the
words of a text. There was considerable merit in
the execution, and a sort of gloomy poetry in the
designs, which had some of the impressiveness of
the village reformer's earnest, melancholy voice.
' Are they not very beautiful ?' cried Nannie ; and
Vincent, after an amazed silence, for he had not ex-
pected much from the drawings, and had only asked
for them as an excuse for lingering with the pretty
show-woman, replied —
' I am no judge, but certainly they do seem
to me — talented. Quite as clever as your grand-
father's, for instance,' he added, with a smile.
' Do you really think so ? ' cried the radiant
Nannie, breathlessly. * Oh, do let me run down to
the workshop and make Alick come up.'
' No, no, wait,' said Vincent in dismay, choosing
two of the larger pictures and laying them aside.
' May I buy these, do you think ? ' he asked.
94 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
' Oil no, sir/ said Nannie ; * at least, I mean you
must ask Alick.'
' If you can keep a secret/ said Vincent, ' I will
tell you why I want them/
Nannie, much excited, stood with locked hands
and sparkling eyes fixed on his. Vincent was
thinking a great deal more of her than of what he
was saying ; this device of the pictures had an-
swered beautifully ; it had induced a positive inti-
macy. * I might perhaps find some way of assisting
Alick to become a painter,' said Vincent. ' But
first I must be quite sure he is clever enough to
succeed ; to make a living by it ; do you see ? If
you will lend me these I will send them to a friend
who is a good judge, and who will advise me.'
' Oh, sir, yes ! Please take them ! Oh, you are
good ! ' cried Nannie, putting them into his hands
eagerly. Vincent caught her fingers and imprisoned
them for a moment. His heart was beating with
unwonted excitement — not at all about Alick.
' Now mind, not one word to any one,' he said.
' And I will bring you Mr. Pope's story-book. Shall
I find you at home any time V
' Yes, sir, generally at this time,' said Nannie,
' unless when I go down on the shore.'
Vincent remembered how he had thought of
a stroll on the shore some afternoon too, and
flushed a little, with a momentary idea of asking
THE INSANE ROOT 95
her to meet him there. But one of the children
came in and pulled the girl's sleeve, and said —
' Nannie, mother's gone out,' which made her for
some reason look rather uneasy and impatient, so
that Vincent, sorely tempted to stay, judged it her
wish that he should take his leave ; and did so,
without remembering to give any message for Alick
that would account for his visit.
' She is pretty enough for anything,' said Vincent
On entering, he went straight to the library, and
found a small copy of Mr. Pope's pretty poem ; he
thought of taking it to her at once, but reflected
that Alick would probably be home by this time,
and much in the way. ' He would tell her it was
wicked heathen stuff,' said Vincent to himself.
* I suppose she wouldn't go down on the scar so late
as this ? Shall I just wander round on the chance ?
Xo, I have an impression that I had better not.
I will take the book when I return the drawings,
as I told her. What an inspiration that matter of
the drawings was ! ' Vincent put the book in his
pocket and carried it about till the presentation day
came. Still he felt rather oppressed by his rash
promises about Alick. Going into the drawing-
room he threw the specimen pictures on the table
for criticism. Lady Katharine, thinking they were
her son's own doing, praised them extravagantly,
96 MR. Bryant's mistake
and Mr. Kane, who knew something of drawing, as
he did of most things, was a good deal impressed,
even when he heard they were Alick Handle's.
Vincent was in high good humour with himself and
everybody ; charmed his mother (who was generally
rather afraid of him), and went about whistling and
putting various things to rights, which till to-night
had been to him mere sources of disgust and boredom.
He also wrote to Georgina quite an amusing letter
about his shipwreck adventure. Dr. Verrill and the
great work on vegetables, the deformed genius who
thought himself a missionary, and the preposterously
dirty village. Naturally, however, he made no
allusion to the girl with the red hair. And, puzzled
what to do with the drawings, he sent them to
Georgina to show Lord Cookham, who set up to be
a connoisseur and a patron of needy artists, and was
the nearest approach to a painter among the acquaint-
ances of Vincent Leicester, the Philistine. On the
morrow he went up for a few days to town.
When Alick Eandle came in from his work he
found Nannie walking up and down the room trying
to still the baby, who was crying for his mother,
THE INSANE ROOT 97
while the boys were clamouring for supper and
quarrelling with Sally and Liz, unskilfully preparing
it. Alick listened to the noise for a minute, looking
as if his head would burst ; then went into the yard
to wash his hands, calling Nannie to him and
bidding her leave the screamer with Sally.
' I'm bound to tell you all the troubles, Nan,' he
said, with a sad smile ; ' here's Tom been getting into
scrapes again ; and I find mother's drawn out nigh
all the savings, and has a bill to the butcher as
well. She'll have us to the poorhouse some day.'
* The butcher's me ! ' cried Nannie gaily ; ' I cost
you a lot ! I'm too hungry. Wouldn't you like
me to go away home ? '
' Lass/ cried Alick, ' if you go we'll be ruined
' Maybe father would send some money for my
butcher,' suggested Nannie.
' Don't go asking him. He might bid you back,
and I ain't an innkeeper.'
' Then we must eat herrings like the other folk
here. You may talk for a week, Alick, but you'll
never get me to believe it's good religion to waste
what's good food, when it's dead already. If I were
a herring I'd a deal sooner be eaten after I'm dead
by a nice clean man, than gobbled up alive by a
dirty whale. Herrings are nigh as nourishing
as mutton, which is dear as well as murderous ;
VOL. I 7
98 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
and a deal solider, and cheaper too than cauli-
' I never said it was downright wicked, Nan/
said Alick, catching her infectious smile ; ' it don't
agree with me, that's all. But I'd rather we all
eat mutton every day of our lives than have you go
away from us, Nannie.'
' Didn't I come here because I l%ked it, Alick ? '
said the girl. It was true, thought this last visit
to Everwell had not been without its anxieties.
Formerly she had been treated like a little queen,
when her daintiness had come as a favour to visit
dear, loving, funny Aunt Leach. But this time Alick
had brought her to make herself useful, at the time
when his stepfather's slow disease had worn out his
wife's patience, so that she had to console herself
with gin ; and the children were too young to be
any good ; and Alick himself had as much as he could
manage in trying to keep Leach's business together;
and money was getting scarce, and it was beginning
to be said that ' they boasting folk of Leaches was
no different in ways or in luck from their neighbours.'
Nannie, not particularly happy in her home at
Faverton, where no one treated her with any distinc-
tion at all, never refused her cousin Alick ; so she
had come to Everwell for an indefinite stay ; and
at sixteen had been introduced to the cares and
anxieties of at least other people's lives.
THE INSANE ROOT 99
' Alick/ said Nannie, rather nervously, * I don't
want to vex you, lad, but she's gone out.' He
turned on her sharply, and she began to explain
hastily : ' Sir Vincent was here, Alick, and I '
' Sir Vincent here ? ' interrupted Alick ; ' what
call had he to come here, I'd like to know ? '
' He was looking for you. Oh, Alick, how nice
he is ! What's the matter, lad ? '
' / never asked him here. Well, go on.'
' He was talking to me. He promised to bring
me a book. Aunt went away and then '
* Mother went away and left him with you ? '
' Yes, Jimmy was crying or something. I didn't
notice. And then she slipped out, and I didn't know
for a long time ; not till the gentleman was gone.'
Alick took the girl by the arms and turned her
round to look at her face.
' For a long time ? What did the gentleman
talk about, eh ? '
' Why I thought you liked him ! ' exclaimed
Nannie ; then she remembered her delightful secret,
and hesitated and coloured. ' He talked; — about
He perceived her embarrassment.
Before very long Mrs. Leach came in, her face
flushed, and her eyes a little blurred and wandering.
But she had assumed an air of great dignity, and
was bent upon proving herself a model of sobriety.
loo MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
She removed her bonnet, put her cap on back to front,
and taking the baby, sat down before the fire, to which
she administered an unnecessary poke, explaining that
she had been buying yarn from her friend Mrs. Law,
whose ' chimley ' clock had run down. Conversa-
tion Mrs. Leach knew was her forte, so she conversed
much this evening to ensure respect ; and it would
have required a duller sense of humour than Nannie's
not occasionally to smile at her discourse. Alick saw
nothing amusing in it. He sat with frowning eyes
piecing together some broken oak carving he had
bought at an auction for Mr. Sandford, and Nannie,
at his side, was trying to interest him in Mr. Pope's
lines, quoted in the tract to workmen.
' Hold your noise,' said Alick once or twice to
the clamorous children, and ordered them to bed, —
a command to which they paid no attention.
* Yes, Mary Anne, my dear,' said Mrs. Leach,
* you ought to mind your brother when he speaks.
I always obeyed my father when I was a girl.
He was a great hartist. And / hadn't no good
mother, Sally, when I was a girl to learn me my
duty, like you have. I was telling you, Nannie,
my dear, I wouldn't go with them Forrester girls,
nor keep company with their brother, gin I was
Neither Nannie nor Alick looked round, but
they both heard this remark with great indignation.
THE INSANE ROOT loi
' Eobert, his name is/ continued Mrs. Leach ;
' I knew his uncle — Eobert Forrester he was
too. That showed how I vallied my good father
and minded what he said. " Ann, lass," says he,
" thou must choose between me and Eobert."
" Father," says I, " I will kape tluy. I cannot lose
my good father, not for Eobert nor no one. I've
minded him since I were born, and I'll mind
him now." Nannie, my dear, I'd have had a good
husband if I'd married Eobert. And I hope
you'll have the same, my dear, and a healthier
man than Jim Leach or Jim Eandle either, who
held out a shorter time than Leach, for that
' There, go to bed, you children,' interrupted Alick
angrily. ' Mother, Nannie, send 'em off, will you ? '
' My dears, mind your good brother,' said Mrs.
Leach, sleepily ; and Nannie enforcing the command
this time, the boys set off for a stroll and the girls
went upstairs, leaving only Jimmy and the baby.
Mrs. Leach rose to take these little ones also, but
she trod upon Jimmy, who had dropped asleep on
the floor ; alarmed by which misadventure, she gave
a great lurch and nearly threw the baby into the
fire. Nannie, terrified, sprang to her assistance and
conveyed away the two little things herself, Mrs.
Leach giving many directions as she sank back
rather suddenly into her chair.
I02 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
Alick was left alone with his mother ; he pushed
his work aside and came over choking with
'What do you mean, mother, by talking that
rubbish to Nannie about keeping company ? '
'Eh, my poor lad, I was speaking to Sally as
well, for shey's growing a big girl too, and will have
to be looking about her. And Nannie's of an age
now to have followers and must be taught, as she's
no good mother of her own, to choose 'em out properly.'
' I won't have the word spoke to Nannie.' Mrs.
Leach nodded her head.
' She'll have 'em without speaking, she will. She
ain't an ugly lass. I could see the genelman
' What gentleman ? '
' Eh ? Our own Sir Vincent. A fine handsome
man hey is. I do like an 'andsome male ; I must say
I do, even at my time of life. And so in course
does Nannie, at hers. Maybe they've spoke to each
other afore now in Faverton.'
' Did Sir Vincent make out I had asked him
to come, that he forced his way in here ? ' asked
' Well, my poor lad, if hey hadn't said so, do you
suppose I'd have petitioned him in ? I thought
maybe he'd expressed to you an ammiration for
Nannie. La now, I could see he ammired her!
THE INSANE ROOT 103
I know what's what. I had a many ammirers my-
self. There was Eobert Forrester and Ben Welby
' Mother, aren't you ashamed ? ' cried Alick, and
she returned to her muttons with hasty apology.
' Yes, yes, I remember what I was talking about.
Nan looked up very pleasant at him, pretty dear,
and he went away pleased, he did, a-fingering them
little things she give him. I see him, I did, afore I
stepped oop to Mrs. Law,' she maundered on, nodding
her head mysteriously and laughing to herself
Alick, white, gasping, shook her arm roughly.
' What did Xannie give him ? ' he shouted.
Mrs. Leach looked up terrified.
' Oh my ! my ! Alick, what's the matter ? Don't
frighten me like this. I can't abear it. Nannie,
Nannie,' she called, ' come down ! come to Alick !
He's took with summat the matter with him ! '
Nannie's light foot came flying down the steep
stair as Alick dropped his mother's arm and
pushed her back into the chair.
' I'm a fool to waste words on you,' he said, and
meeting Nannie, he took her by the shoulders with
a grasp more violent than he knew, and offensive to
' What did you give Sir Vincent Leicester to-day,
Nannie ? ' he questioned
The girl remembered her promise, and she was
104 MR, BRYANTS MISTAKE
just enough annoyed with Alick to be glad she
couldn't tell him what he wanted to know. She
' I — I didn't give him anything,' she stammered,
with an attempt at a smile, mistaken if, by its
means, she hoped to pacify her cousin. Ahck let
her shoulder go, and brought his hand down on her
arm with a force which might have been called a
blow had Nannie chosen to regard it in that light.
' It's a lie ! ' he said angrily, not ha^dng noticed
her emphasis. Nannie shook his hand off and
moved quietly nearer to her aunt.
'I don't lie, Alick. You had ought to know
that by this time. I didn't give Sir Vincent any-
thing, and I'm not going to tell you what I lent
' Lent ? that's worse. He means to bring it
back to you, does he ? '
*Ay, he'll come back,' chimed in Mrs. Leach,
who had lost the thread of the argument, and was
anxious to please her son by agreeing with him.
' What was it you lent him, Nannie ? '
' I'm not going to tell you. Maybe you could
find out if you chose. I don't see what you are in
such a temper about, Alick, and I'm not going to
help you out of it. Let me pass, if you please.'
Nevertheless Nannie paused at the foot of the
stair, a little sorry. ' Sir Vincent will tell you him-
THE INSAXE ROOT 105
self, Alick, when tie brings the things back,' she
' I won't never speak to him again," said the
man, ' a d — d scoundrel"
* Alick ! I think you are forgetting/
' Leastways you shan't, Nan. Ay, I'll see him
to-morrow and give him my miad.'
Xannie had no idea what it was all about, but
she knew her cousin well and saw no good in
arguing with him. She returned to the children.
Then IMrs. Leach mtu-mtired sleepily, ' There ain't
never no good, Alick, in impudence to gentlefolks.
You lave him to Xannie and mev.'
' To be wroth with one we love doth work like
madness in the brain,' and Alick Handle had no pre-
disposition to sanity. He was not, indeed, the man
to arrive at sober views on any matter iu which his
feelings were concerned. That night he did not sleep.
The self-taught grandson of the local painter was
bom artist enough to be haunted in visible shape
by scenes or faces which excited his imagination.
While Xannie was repeating Mr. Pope's pretty
Hnes about the divine horses transfixed by grief.
io6 MR. Bryant's mistake
Alick saw them, and only by an effort could he rid
himself of their importunate phantasms. But to-
night it was no fanciful coursers of heavenly breed
which forced themselves before his inward eye,
torment of his solitude. He saw Nannie ; child
and girl ; his playmate, his tyrant, his slave, his
sister. Sister ? No, never again. He was staring
at a haunting fancy of Nannie in virginal white, but
with the garland on her hair which betokened a
bride, and she was leaning towards him with her
sweet lips pouted for a kiss. ' She is not my sister.
She is my love, my sweetheart, my wife!
The idea was not new to him, but he had
never faced it before. For Alick had not been
clear that it would be right for him to marry. The
instinct of the religious fanatic turns to celibacy as
it turns to fasting. Fasting came natural to Alick ;
as he said naively, neither fish nor flesh agreed very
well with him, and it was quite true that he was
in a ' more compact and pious frame of mind ' —
' nearer to God,' as he phrased it — when his digest-
ive apparatus did its work unobtrusively. And for
long it had seemed to Alick that celibacy was to be
as natural to him as a spare diet. He looked at
his contemptible appearance, and reflected that he
was not the man to find favour in the eyes of
women. And it had appeared to Alick, as to many
another, very easy and not unadvisable to renounce
THE INSANE ROOT 107
the joys of Love when as yet none of the blind boy's
arrows had wounded his heart. For when Alick
had gone to Faverton Farm to fetch Nannie to his
mother's assistance — Nannie, whom he had last seen
a dear, good, clever little maid of thirteen — he had
thought of her as a sister ; gentler and prettier than
Sally or Liz. But Nannie had not been long at
Everwell, and necessarily on terms of close intimacy
with her cousin, before Alick found out that a lovely
girl of sixteen is not, like a child, to be quickly and
comfortably disposed of as an adopted sister. He
reopened that question of celibacy ; prayed for
guidance ; began to think his view unscriptural,
or himself unworthy to rank with those highest
and holiest ones called to virginity, and to follow
the Lamb whithersoever He went. His passion for
Nannie grew, but he was only dimly conscious of it
himself, and never hinted at it to any one. He
was sufficiently aware of his ill-controlled nature to
see that if he were not to marry the girl at once,
and yet she were to remain under his mother's roof,
there must be no suggestion of sweethearting
between them. Yet to-night — to-night with that
sweet vision of the girl with the bridal garland
before his eyes, he confessed to himself that he did
intend to marry her, and he saw in the vision a sign
that his desire was the will of Heaven.
But suddenly as in a dream a new picture pre-
io8 MR. Bryant's MISTAKE
sen ted itself. Nannie again, bTit in her homely
everyday frock, with her girlish figure and her red
hair, sitting on a high chair by the window, Mr.
Raskin's tract in her hand, but listening playfully,
joyously, to the man standing at her side, who was
leaning towards her and smiling as he talked ; not
Alick himself, lean, crooked, undesirable ; no, but
strong, important, aggressive, dropped like an angel
out of another sphere ; Sir Vincent Leicester, whose
smiling eye and jesting tongue and general deficiency
of seriousness and principle had already made the
evangelist very suspicious. Alick drew his breath
hard as he tossed and tossed on his hard pallet ;
and thought of his mother's tipsy suggestions ; and
of Nannie's undeniable duplicity ; of the once or
twice Sir Vincent rather lightly had mentioned the
fair girl ; his admiring bow to her on Sunday, and her
hlush and involuntary smile ; and so on, till he had
worked himself into a fever of jealousy and suspicion.
Perhaps he fell asleep for a minute or two ; at
any rate another picture, dream, or waking vision
possessed his eyes. It was memory this time of a
veritable occurrence, a scene he himself had wit-
nessed, and which he intended to paint some day ;
for a sermon, and in colours mixed in blood. Nannie
did not appear in it. Dear no ! There was a dark
night, a tossing sea, black and mysterious ; a crowd
on the rock below Dr. Verrill's cottage. And in
THE INSANE ROOT 109
the centre of the crowd a drowned woman — Dick
Boulter's lass ; murdered perhaps ; by herself, it
might be, or by her lover, who could tell ? Ah,
that pale, stiff corpse — the eyes open with the last
wild look of blinding horror — the mouth open for
its last despairing yell; the girl, young as Nannie,
fair as she, loved as passionately ! And Dick
Boulter was there, looking at her; and the other
lover, who had stolen her, was there ; and one of
them, perhaps, had been a murderer, though they
would go fishing to-morrow as usual, and live side
by side at Everwell still ! Among such people
Alick lived, tormented as a righteous soul in hell.
To-night, looking at this dark picture of his
memory, he seemed to see another figure in it — a
gentleman who had paused to watch and to wonder,
curious, half sympathetic, half disgusted, half indif-
ferent and apart, like a spectator at a playhouse.
Sir Vincent Leicester, with his curled lip and good
clothes and air of breeding and reputation, as he had
worn them when the boy had beaten the starved
donkey to death. And he, Alick, who had drawn
the drowned woman from the waves, was hovering
round now, like an evil spirit, and was confronting
the heartless gentleman and asking him, 'What
doest thou here ? ' And then — surely all this was
mere feverish dreaming that the pictures, like dis-
solving views, melted thus into each other ? — Dick
no MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
Boulter's rival had disappeared, and Sir Vincent
was somehow in his place ; and Alick was still con-
fronting him ; and the dark, soaking tresses of the
lost girl were burning red before his eyes ; and the
large, coarse hand of Dick Boulter's lass had grown
small and delicate, like — like and the shame-
ful, murdered woman had taken the features of
Nannie — Nannie, the fair, white, innocent bride whom
Alick had joyed to see a few minutes before
Poor Alick ! I told you he had no predisposition
A few days later, Vincent Leicester stepped out
of the Tanswick station on his return from London,
and as the rush of cold salt air struck him in the face,
he experienced a keen joy quite new to him in a
sense of coming home. He sent away the dogcart and
walked to the Heights across the moor. ' I really
must turn my attention to the stables,' he said,
laughing to himself and watching the foolish gait of
his vanishing horse. ' Could old Price be got rid of, I
wonder ? To abolish a horse is easy, but what does
one do with an old coachman ? I will turn him out
to grass, hoping he is a disciple of the vegetarian
doctor's, and, like Nebuchadnezzar, will thrive in a
field.' His heart was thrilling with exhilaration, as
he looked away over the wild hills on his left,
where seemed all pleasant possibilities of untamed
life, and sun, and health, and freedom ; or over the
THE INSANE ROOT in
gently tossing sea, from which came murmuring
music and a wooing breeze. He walked briskly on,
building castles in the air, and playing with Peggy,
the rough terrier, who had left the vehicle, like all
dogs preferring the society of a master to that of a
' Yes, this plateau,' said Vincent, ' is exactly the
site for a watering-place. The railroad is conveni-
ent, the air perfect, the cliff just the right height ;
below, a jolly little beach for bathing. In ten years
I foresee the growth of an Eastbourne or a Torquay,
and I shall be a rich man. Perhaps I had better
import a few Yankees who understand running up
a city in an hour or two ? Profit is the raison
d'itre of my town. In default of historical monu-
ments I will have a pier. Punch and Judy, niggers,
and 'Arry ; a church too, with a sweet preacher
to attract rich dowagers. Bryant shall be the
preacher; Alick Piandle shall be town architect
and chief decorator. In Mrs. Leach I see mine
hostess of the best hotel.' At this moment Vincent
nearly fell over his kinsman the parson, who was
grovelling under a furze bush. The young man
begged his pardon, and hoped he had not met with
' Yes,' said Septimius, ' and a most deplorable
one, though I can hardly call it an accident,
when it was designed by those demoniacal boys.'
112 MR. BRYANTS MISTAKE
Vincent shook his stick at a pair of barelegged
urchins disappearing over the precipice. * The
rudest, the most ill-conditioned, the most worth-
less ' continued the clergyman ; ' ah, surely I
caught a gleam of it under that leaf ! Don't crush
it, I entreat you. Sir Vincent ; your knee is very
large and heavy. Dear, dear ! you must have con-
cealed it afresh by your brusque movements. How
provoking ! '
' If I knew what I was looking for,' said Vincent,
' my zeal in the search would perhaps be more suc-
cessful.' After further conversation, which proceeded
with some strain, Vincent finally came away, laugh-
ing explosively now and then, but looking a little
disturbed and vexed with himself.
The slipshod old gentleman who opened the door
to the young master when he arrived at the Heights,
was John, brother to Price, the head coachman,
about to be turned out to grass ; and husband to
the housekeeper, a person of great dignity. John's
imagination was less active than his wife's, and he
could not ' walk with inward glory crowned ' when
the family mansion had, during Sir Charles's absen-
teeism, fallen into such a painful state of decay.
' It's so long since I've buttled for any one, sir,' he
said this evening, ' I most forget how to do it. As
you said, sir,' and he shook his long gray locks dole-
fully, ' you'd best look for a younger man to take my
THE INSANE ROOT 113
place. I listened, sir, to you a speaking one day
in the library to the honourable gentleman, and
you said, " As for the servants, I must have them
younger and better looking.'"
' You listened, did you ? Come now, John, you
should have known that referred to the women.'
Vincent, with more laughter, made his way to
his mother's room.
Lady Katharine was very tall, very stately, and
very good. She was rather afraid of her son, and
had all sorts of confused fears about him, — his health,
his judgment, his habits, and his principles. It is
of course needless to add that she idolised her only
child, and did her very best to influence him rightly.
' Mother,' said Vincent with much gravity, * would
you or would you not describe me as a quarrelsome
person ? '
' You ? ' said the gentle lady, thunderstruck.
' Because I never can take a walk at Everwell
without a quarrel. It is getting serious. Since
stepping out of the train two hours ago I have had
a rupture with two independent people. Now do
you seriously think the fault is entirely theirs?
could it by some remote chance be mine ? '
' I never quarrel, Vincent,' said her ladyship.
' Precisely. I am sure John would never have
suspected you of hankering after beauty and youth
in a butler.'
VOL. I o
114 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
' Has John given notice ? Dear, dear ! What
would your dear father have said ? ' mourned the
widow, who, without any admiration for John, re-
garded him as a sort of decree of Providence.
'And then a few minutes before. Cousin Sep-
timius and I had a short conversation, with the
result that he has resigned too.'
' Oh, my dearest Yincent ! Surely you must have
been rash — hasty ! '
' It is precisely what I fear. But he was lying
on his stomach under a bush, seeking a beetle;
and when I tried to help him he complained of
the size and the weight of my knees. He seemed
annoyed ; and moreover the beetle escaped. Then
he annoyed me by swearing he abhorred every
mother's son in Everwell. And after a minute he
said he wished to live in Sark and would hold his
living no longer. Dear mother, will you send for
him to-morrow and explain that I didn't mean any-
thing ; but that I am rather afraid of beetles, and
think my nerves must have been upset ? Nature, I
am certain, designed you for a peacemaker 1 '
' Pray, Vincent, be serious. Tell me, dear boy,
did you say anything you now see cause to regret ? '
' No. I hinted that he shouldn't prefer beetles
to boys. But what of that ? The observation may
have been ill-timed, but I was bound to make it
some day; these opinions, mother, cannot be hid.'
THE INSANE ROOT 115
' Beetles ! ' ejaculated Lady Katharine, and re-
flected in silence. Vincent roamed about the room,
straightening the pictures and blowing away the ugly
housemaid's neglected dust from the window sashes.
' But what have I here ? ' he asked, taking up
an architectural design lying on the table ; * plan of
a villa in Calverley Park, Tunbridge Wells ? Who
has sent you this, and why ? Good heavens ! under
what unlucky star did I rise to-day ? Mother, it
is impossible that you are going to resign too ?
Mother dear,' said Vincent, sitting down and
really grave now, ' I should like to say a few things
to you if I may. Since my father's death I have
looked into matters a good deal, and I have come
to a few conclusions which you had better know.'
' Surely, dear,' said Lady Katharine. Vincent
looked rather worried, and before plunging into his
subject made some unkind observations about his
uncle, asking when he was going away, and announc-
ing with commendable prudence, but some unneces-
sary aggressiveness, that he was resolved never under
any circumstances to lend Uncle Frederick any money.
The widow blushed ; apologised for her brother, who
was perhaps a little rapacious ; and hoped anxiously
that her son was not exhibiting a touch of selfishness.
' I want all my money myself,' said Vincent
gloomily ; and now she thought still more anxiously
that he was in debt, and determined to lay every
Il6 MR, BRYANTS MISTAKE
farthing of her own at his disposal. ' My father
must have told you, mother, that for a long time
now our property has been too big for our money,'
continued the son.
* Your dear father, Vincent, always thanked God
that he had sufficient for his wants. Of course,
dear — do let me say it for once — we have to
regulate our wants. It was beautiful how he did
that ' her voice failed her. Vincent did not
reply for a minute.
* I was not so much thinking of my own wants,'
he said, bluntly ; ' I was thinking of this place. It
has been neglected. I have made up my mind,
mother, to do without, in fact to sell Faverton.'
' Vincent ! '
' I cannot do justice to both places,' said Vincent,
' and you know I cannot get rid of Everwell. It
was the home of my forefathers ; whether I like it
or not, mother, I have made up my mind to make
it my home. It is not fair to grind a certain
amount of income out of the place, while I spend
neither money, nor time, nor interest here.'
' I am very sorry, dear, you should think it
necessary to come to any such hasty resolution,'
said the widow ; ' when I remember your dear
father's affection for Faverton, and the pleasure he
took in making little alterations to improve it for
THE INSANE ROOT 117
' Mother,' interrupted Vincent, ' Faverton is a very
nice place, but it is a luxury, a speculation. Everwell
is inevitable. I must recover as much as possible
of the capital that has been invested at Faverton,
and that will give me something to spend here ; to
render this house habitable and the tenants at least
decent. I can't go on taking rent from those
men and leave them li\dng like pigs. It is no
wonder they detest us ; which they do.' Lady
Katharine sighed. It was as she had feared. Her
boy was inclined to be presuming.
' If I can, I mean to make Everw^ell profitable,'
said Vincent, more cheerfully ; ' that farming land
shaU be improved somehow. I must run up a shoot-
ing-box or two, and let those moors every year.
And I have a great project of building an inn
on the point, and founding a watering-place ! '
* Vincent, what desecration ! '
* I am sorry you think so, mother. Can you
suggest some better way of raising money ? I
might marry an heiress, of course,' said Vincent,
laughing, * but heiresses like spending their money
on themselves, don't they ? not on the dependents
and barren acres of a pauper husband.' Lady
Katharine looked up, seeing a gleam of hope.
* Have you been thinking of marrying, dear
Vincent ? ' she said eagerly. It was some time
before he replied.
ii8 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
Then, still hesitating a little, he exhibited Geor-
gina's picture; and though he did not disclose her
name, he gave such other information about the
charmer as produced a most favourable impression
on the gentle lady, who considered a Icve match like
her own the most beautiful and desirable thing in
the world, and was by this delightful news most
wonderfully cheered and ready to forgive her son
about Faverton, Septimius, John Price the butler,
and everything else. But nowadays, under all his
moods, Vincent felt, without knowing why, an
undercurrent of discontent. As he talked of
Georgina the vague despondency increased. Perhaps
all men went through it when they first seriously
contemplated the unknown state of marriage ! per-
haps every man when he had suddenly entered
into his inheritance and been pitchforked out of
boyish irresponsibility into the cares of middle life,
felt like a voyager putting forth in the dark upon
an unknown sea, unprovisioned and in a crazy
boat ! Vincent's heart clung to his gentle and
affectionate and always reverenced mother ; at least
there was nothing new and strange about lier.
' One word more, mother/ said Vincent, rising ;
and he leaned over her very prettily, quite reminding
her of his father, and took her hand and smiled at
her, much, she thought, as he might have done at
the sweet unknown girl of whom he had spoken ;
THE INSANE ROOT 119
' this wedding is not coming off yet, and I don't
like that plan of a villa in Calverley Park ! Even
though it is not at Faverton, I feel sure my father
would like to think that for the present at any rate
you were making your home with ,me. May we
not consider that at least as decided ? '
Let no one suppose that after one evening's excite-
ment Alick Eandle had returned to common sense.
When he presented himself, however, at the Heights
early on the following day, it was to learn that the
gentleman had already started for the metropolis,
not to return till the end of the week.
' It won't do, you know, Alick,' said John, the
melancholy ; ' Sir Vincent ain't a republican to be
hand and glove with you every hour of the day.
You'd best not be intertrooding so often.'
' What ! ' cried Alick, with the self-importance
of simplicity, * has he gone away to avoid me .? '
' Her ladyship's at home,' said John, who had
great respect for Alick, ' and the honourable gentle-
man, if you want to leave a message.'
* The honourable gentleman ! ' repeated Alick ;
' I wonder if them titles is pleasing to Him who
120 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
said, " Call no man your master upon earth." T
cannot bring my mouth about them till I know the
men better. Is your master an honourable gentle-
man, John, do you think ? '
' It's haraldry/ said John ; ' step in and ask my
Betsy. Shey's oop to it. It's a puzzle to me, a puzzle
Alick went away to begin his work breakfastless,
and wet to the skin by the thick drizzle. He would
speak plain to Nannie herself, and tell her that he
loved her, and in honourable fashioli. But Nannie
baffled him by her little air of displeasure, her child-
like innocence, and maiden pride. He could not
get his dark suspicions of the man he distrusted
into words, which instinct told him would be
surely offensive to her ; and instinct told him also
that to press his own suit now was to meet with
certain rejection, perhaps to lose her altogether.
For at any moment Nannie might return to her own
home in the next county ; and of all things Alick
dreaded that, for Sir Vincent could go to Faverton
and he himself could not. So he kept silence, but
all the time fire was smouldering in his breast, such
as could not choose but burst into flame some day
One evening Alick, ostensibly doing a bit of
designing for the doctor's great book, had let his
fingers stray into altogether amateur work, prompted
THE INSANE ROOT I2i
by the Father of Idleness. He was trying to draw
a picture of Nannie ; it would not come right ; and
the girl was out shopping for her aunt. He would
help himself by that old forgotten sketch of her
in the case. He rose to fetch it. It was gone !
Alick turned the drawinojs over and over as^ain, and
his pale face grew paler. This was the thing that
had been kept from him ! The man had asked
Nannie for her portrait ; and she had given it to
him. It was clear as daylight.
One of the children knocked something down.
Lizzie struck him, and the child howled. 'Now,
now, now ! ' cried Alick, who in his best moods had
his teeth set on edge by a child's cry. 'Where's
mother ? '
' Gone to the beer-house,' answered little Mary
Anne, when the bigger girls were going to temporise.
Alick flung out after her with a mad desire tearing
at his heart to join her for once in her cups, nay, to
far exceed her decorous tippling in mad excess of
riot. It was long before he dared to seek her in
the unhallowed precincts. Was it relief or disap-
pointment that she was not there ?
122 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
TWO LETTERS AND A SOLILOQUY
' We should certainly be most culpable, my dear Sir
Vincent, if for want of patronage we allowed such
unusual gifts as you have introduced to my notice
to be neglected. If you have made up your mind
to spend a little money on this Alexander Eandle
(and I, for one, can conceive no worthier expenditure
of money), I shall be happy if you will allow me to
double your liberality ; and I will make inquiries as
to the young artist's most advantageous course.
London art instruction is poor ; modern Italian is
despicable ; undoubtedly, Paris is the best field. If
you have any fear that the moral influences of the
place may be dangerous for a young man in Alex-
ander Eandle's position, I will make further inquiries
into the conditions to which an art student is sub-
jected in one of the admirable German studios. —
Believe me, with genuine gratitude,' etc. etc. etc.
' Well, I suppose that is satisfactory ; only going
rather too fast for my intentions. It is decided
then that Alick has genius ? But fancy Cookham
and me going shares in any undertaking ! Had I
not better unlade our student on him altogether ?
THE INSANE ROOT 123
Ah, here are the sketches. Now I can take them
back to lovely Nannie and give her her book.
' How have I overlooked a letter from Georgina,
I wonder ? It is rather soon for her to write again,
isn't it ? Oh, I see. Also about Alick. What an
important fellow he has become all of a sudden ! '
'My dear cousin, put not your faith in man.
If you wanted a true verdict from our artistic
friend, you shouldn't have sent the silly sketches
through me. Don't you know his lordship likes
pleasing me 1 And seriously I must warn you off
this country paint-brush. Are you thinking he'll
be a Michael Angelo ? It is a dream, sir. Your
villager won't be a genius. He will probably steal
your money and take to drink, and you will never
hear his name without a shudder. Don't you know
that I am right ? For is he not your first protege ?
And did any man's first protege ever turn out well ?
or his second ? or his third ? I assure you Cookham
has had scores of proteges, and as far as I can make
out they all drink. Please, sir, you won't turn
philanthropist, will you ? Aunt says the species is
vulgar and papa generally finds them dissenters.
You surely do not believe in people ? How I
should laugh if any one believed in me, and yet I
am a finer specimen than any protege I ever met.
AYhat have persons with a liberal education and an
open mind to do with enthusiasms ? Have they not
124 MR. BRYANTS MISTAKE
all been found out long ago ? Do pray come away
from that horrible Everwell/ etc. etc. etc., ending
with a hope they might soon meet again ; she had
a host of new friends to whom she wanted to intro-
' That is all very nice/ said the soliloquy. ' I
suppose she means she will have me now if I like
to ask her again. If our letters are to be in this
vein I think I should prefer a formal and announced
engagement, that these other fellows she talks of
may stand out of the light. The only thing is, some-
how, I don't feel as keen about it as I did.
' Oh heaven ! were mau
But constant, he were perfect ; that one error
Fills him with faults ; makes him run through all the sins.
Inconstancy falls off ere it begins.
Well, any way I have not changed my mind. No.
Have I not told mother all about it ? That shows
I have not changed my mind. It will be all right
once I see Georgina again. She is handsomer even
than Nannie, isn't she ? I think I will go to Eome
presently and settle it. And after dinner to-day
I will carry Alick his sketches and see what Cook-
ham and I can arrange for him. And take another
peep at Nannie. Why the deuce shouldn't I ? '
THE INSANE ROOT 125
' Oh law, sir ! ' said Mrs. Leach, ' my poor lad said
mey and Nannie wasn't to let you come no more.'
She couldn't for the life of her remember what
reason Alick had given, so when Sir Vincent
asked, ' Why not ? ' she was driven to her usual
resort of ready invention. 'Well, now, sir, there
ain't no use trying to deceive you. To make a
short story, my poor boy ain't right in his head
' Bless me ! ' said Vincent.
' He don't read his tracks ; he don't work at
nothing. He don't say nothing. And we durstn't
say nothing to him. He kicks the children. He
flies out at his good mother and at Nannie. If you
was to come in, sir, he might propose to chuck you
of a heap on the fire.'
' Is he a teetotaler ? ' asked Vincent, with delicate
'No, sir; we don't hold with teetotalers. My
husbands never had the doctor out of the house
after they signed the pledge. They was men wonder-
ful like each other, sir ; both named Jim ; both
delicate like ; and both took early, one after the
126 MR. BR YANTS MISTAKE
tother. But we are very sober, pious people, sir.
As I hope to go to heaven, I'm telling you the truth
about Alick ; he's an honourable young man, and a
sober, and a genelmanly ; but he has a shocking
bad head. And that's a calamity for poor folks
like we, sir; and an expense, so as sometimes,
like to-night, I don't know where to turn for
a sixpence. But I'm ashamed, sir, you should
have found me weeping on the road about it.
I'm a very feeling woman, and I weep easy may-
' Your eldest daughter must be an assistance to
you,' said Vincent, moving on.
Here Mrs. Leach looked ruefully into a capacious
but empty purse. ' I take it very kind of you, sir,
to have noticed my eldest daughter. She lays abed
at home with the headache, and I was stepping up
to Dr. Verrill's to get a herb liniment for her.
" Mother," she says to me, " bring me some lemons
and the wing of a chicken ! " The only thing she
could fancy, pretty dear, and she so patient. But I
ain't got the money not to buy luxuries, not even
It was weak-minded, but Vincent was so
moved by the thought of the little red-haired
beauty sighing at home with the headache for
a bag of lemons, that he gave Mrs. Leach five
shillings, and bade her call at the Heights for
THE INSANE ROOT 127
some grapes. He now proposed to continue
his walk, and Mrs. Leach, delighted by the dona-
tive, hurried away, after thanks rather fulsome
At the first corner, however, Vincent was sur-
prised to meet the imagined eldest daughter herself,
her finger on her lip, looking from the retreating
Mrs. Leach to the advancing gentleman with an air
of reproachful distress.
* Oh, Nannie ! ' he exclaimed, impulsively utter-
ing her name; then was abashed, thinking he had
been too familiar.
' Oh, what dicl you give her ? ' cried the girl.
' I saw you give her something ! Was she asking
for money ? Oh, how could you do it ! Think how
vexed Alick will be ! '
* I am very sorry,' said Vincent, smiling at her
sweet indignant face ; ' she told me your sister or
somebody was ill '
' Oh, stop,' cried Nannie, smiles beginning to
invade her distress also. ' You mustn't always
believe just what she says. We nom of us
do, you know.' And she blushed, and then they
both began to laugh, a thing that always draws
young people together even when they don't know
what they are laughing at.
' I must go after her,' said Nannie, presently.
' Wait a bit/ answered Sir Vincent. ' I have
heard from my friend about Alick's sketches ; don't
you want to learn what he says, Nannie ? ' The
name slipped out quite naturally this time, and
Nannie seeming as little astonished as if she were
a new housemaid, he resolved to stick to it.- Vin-
cent sat down on the low wall edging the precipice
below Dr. Verrill's house and took out Lord Cook-
ham's letter. ' You can read it yourself,' he said,
and held it so that to see it in the bright inoon-
light, she had to bend towards him a little. The
reading took some time, for the style both of
writing and expression was unfamiliar to the simple
girl, but Vincent saw no occasion to hurry her.
How could any one with red hair possibly be so
pretty as Nannie ? How pure was the outline of her
rounded cheek and delicate lips ! And what a pretty
sparkle came to her soft eyes as she realised the
writer's drift, whispering to herself the strange words
and complicated sentences, and pointing with one
slender, though brown finger to the lines. A more
innocent maid than this little Nannie, as she stood
beside the gentleman on the edge of the precipice,
full of enthusiasms for her dear Alick, could not be
imagined. She would not indeed have leaned over
a rude fisherman, or even over the postman, in that
way ; but the remotest fear of Sir Vincent Leicester
had never crossed her mind. Gentlemen were not
rough and familiar, nor inclined to make coarse
THE INSANE ROOT 129
jokes on the smallest provocation. And, moreover,
she was so taken up about dear, appreciated Alick !
The moment was delicious, and neither the man
nor the maid cared to shorten it ; in fact Nannie
entirely forgot to pursue her aunt Mrs. Leach^
who had two unexpected half-crowns in her
But at the back of Dr. Verrill's house were two
gaunt,- unshuttered windows, which looked straight
down on the lonely path and the low protecting
wall, bright enough in the moonbeams. And in the
house were assembled several persons in a sort of club
meeting : the postman, the schoolmaster, and some
of the Tanswick shopkeepers, a coastguardsman, one
or two young farmers, and others of similar calibre.
The only lady was Miss Verrill, who had been out
ratting, and was now washing a dog in a corner of
the assembly room, and not attending much to the
proceedings which she graced with her presence.
Dr. Verrill in his shirt-sleeves sat at a table in the
middle of the room with his MS. work on vege-
tables and Alick Handle's plates open before him ; a
microscope ; and sundry botanical specimens all in
various stages of decay, including a heap of sea-
weed, still oozy with brine and full of minute shell-
fish. The men in the room had their pipes, and
were all supplied with steaming glasses of grog;
the smell from the oil lamp, the specimens, the
VOL. I 9
I30 MR. BR YAJVT's MISTAKE
spirits, the dogs, and the hot soap was enough to
knock one down.
This meeting was a weekly one, assembled by
Dr. Verrill, who was by way of lecturing on
his hobby after a vegetarian supper, not always
unpalatable to men tired of a fish diet, and glad
of the warm room and respectable company,
safe from the intrusion of 'fishing loons' and
noisy brawls. Dr. Verrill made no stipulations
against conversation ; so long as he was allowed
to lecture he did not care if nobody listened ;
and indeed those who did listen were not un-
amused, for the good little man never stuck close
enough to his subject to be tedious. ' Our
friend Alick,' said the doctor, nodding at the
young man, who was wandering round the room,
looking bored, ' tells me that in the Heavenly City
is a tree whose leaves are for the healing of the
nations. Now observe the word learns. We are
inclined to eat fruits, roots, stalks, such like, but
except in the case of lettuce, we do not by instinct
incline to Uams. Now, Alick, my lad, you have
studied these words. Do you consider from that
passage that leaves are on the whole intended
to be medicine ?
'When I read that verse last, sir,' said Alick
modestly, 'my thoughts were lifted up a bit
higher than earthly medicines, — commonly ill-
THE INSANE ROOT 131
tasting, and not, I should hope, likely to get into
the Xew Jerusalem.'
' Exactly/ cried the doctor ; ' healing in that
context obviously means food. The leaves of that
tree are for the food of the nations. This even-
ing I propose to talk to you about leaves. Here
are some gathered from that great treasure-house,
the sea : are you aware that its bed is a forest
of waving leaves, of which nine-tenths are not only
edible, but delicious; as those which my sister
cooked for you this evening ? Andrew Martin,
last week we discussed and I think established
the point, that you as an agriculturist though an
unsuccessful one, are engaged in a holier pursuit
in the eyes of Dame Nature than your brother the
fish auctioneer. Mind, I don't say a word against
the consumption of corn. But its cultivation is a
well-established industry suited to a new country.'
'Brother,' interrupted Miss Verrill, severely
' your topic is Leaves'
Meanwhile James Ogle was discussing the new
landlord and the hewing of timber with the postman.
' I reckon Leicester 'ud cut them oaks quick enough
gin they spoiled his cabbage. But seeing it's only
mine it don't matter,' said the grumbler.
"Taint him,' rejoined the other; ' hey seems a good-
tempered chap. It's Blake. It's them stewards
and managers ate the grass off the ground and the
132 MR. BRYAN fs MISTAKE
flesh off men's bones. It's them makes the landlords
the grasping, do-nothing dolts they bey. It's a heavy
sin in Blake, ain't it, Alick ? let alone to grind up
the poor, but to fester the rich. It's like to breed
curses in the long run ; but them sort of curses
is contrairy things, and liker to light on my head,
or yourn, or maybey Sir Vincent's hisself, than on
Alick did not take up the challenge thrown to
him. He was bothered by a remark Miss Yerrill
had made as she carried away the soap-suds and
two of the dogs.
' There's a bright moon over the sea. I looked
out of the stair window, and I saw your mother,
Alick, and Sir Vincent talking to her. He gave
her some money I think, or my eyes have got
' What should mother take money of Sir Vincent
for ? ' thought Alick, resenting Miss Verrill's inter-
ference and too proud at once to pursue the mother
to seek whom he had come out. And he wanted
an interview with Sir Vincent himself But Alick,
the unpledged Nazarite, had tasted Miss Verrill's
punch to-night, and was conscious that his temper
was not under command. He would not seek Sir
Vincent till the morning.
Still he turned his back on the assembly and
looked also from the staircase window. He pulled
THE INSANE ROOT 133
aside the curtain and gazed out on the night. The
moon made a pleasant reflection across the sea ; the
starry sky was cloudless and blue. There was frost
in the air, and with it the tingling silentness which
makes the senses keen and strengthens the pulse of
life.- But of near objects, it was easy to see only
those directly in the moonbeams. Alick could not
discern his portly mother nor the tall, firm-striding
young gentleman. There was no one about, he
thought. Only presently he discovered to the right,
scarcely visible, a couple of figures down below by
the parapet wall : a man sitting on it, half-hidden
by the woman to whom he was showing something.
Alick watched them, vaguely hearing from the room
he had left snatches of talk, which had suddenly
blazed up from cabbages and seaweed into violence,
assertion of rights, freedom and force, blows and
revenge. He was not listening, though he heard ;
he was thinking of the pair below ; lovers he sup-
posed — doubtless unlawful ones. Everwell lovers
were generally unlawful.
Surely they must be kissing each other down
there in their fancied loneliness, while he was
glaring at them with eyes full of senseless jealousy.
Ah! they moved a little. The light fell on them
better now. If they turned ever so little more
he would be able to see their faces, perhaps dis-
tinctly enough for recognition, should he meet
134 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
them to-morrow on the shore or in the village
' You will like to tell Alick yourself, won't you,
Nannie ? ' said Yincent a few moments later ; ' here,
take the letter, and the pictures, and your story-
hook, you wise little student. Can you carry all
that, or shall I walk round with you ? '
' Oh, I can carry it, I think' said Nannie, wish-
ing he would come ; ' and thank you so much, sir,
for the book and for all '
'But, Nannie, I have discovered something.
This is a portrait of you. Am I not right ? ' asked
Yincent, drawing his finger over the pencil lines.
' Yes, sir. You see I am so handy for Alick !
Sally and Liz don't care about sitting quiet so long.'
' I expect they wouldn't make such good pictures.
But Alick has caricatured you. I see now why you
didn't tell me it was your portrait. It was vanity,
wasn't it ? '
Just what he might have said to a London young
lady in a drawing-room with her brother listening.
But somehow, when Yincent perceived Alick stand-
ing beside them, his first instinctive feeling was a
hope that the brother had not overheard. He rose.
' Oh, here is the man himself,' he said, as easily
as he could. ' Good evening, Alick. I have been
giving your sister a message for you.' —
THE INSANE ROOT 135
For the pair had turned a little, and the moon
had shone on their happy faces, and Alick had
recognised them. The effect was instantaneous. It
seemed to him a mere blinding, sense -bereaving
horror and hatred, but it brought him like an arrow
from a string down the stair, across the path to their
side. He snatched the picture from Vincent's hand,
glanced at it, tore it in pieces, and stamped on it.
Then pushing the girl aside with an oath, he thrust
himself between the pair, who in sheer amazement
had drawn closer together, Vincent with a sudden
recollection of Mrs. Leach's suggestions about her
poor son's poor head, and the recoil of disgust which
all sane people feel at a madman. It will be
imagined that the young man who had made short
work of the drunken boatman was quick to use his
strength in innocent Nannie's behalf!
They came to no explanation, for Alick had put
himself so entirely in the wrong that no opportunity
of speech was allowed him. Vincent sent Nannie
home in charge of the postman and Andrew Martin ;
and then strode off, so angry that a cynic might
have suspected him of being a little conscience-
136 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
stricken. ' The fool was drunk of course/ he said ;
'just the way with your canting hypocrites. Well,
for Nannie's sake if for no one else's, he must be
got out of Everwell. How the child must hate him ! '
All the next day Vincent rode the high horse,
astonishing Blake, his present schoolmaster, by his
progress, his strong views, and general air of virtue.
He mended the quarrel with John, and sent him
away on a week's holiday ; visited Septimius, and
agreed that Sark was more suitable to him than
Everwell; went about inspecting the unlet farms
and inquiring into the cause of their decline.
' I shall farm that land myself,' said Vincent,
pointing to the pretty tree-shaded farmhouse at the
end of the dale which ran back from the post-office,
and to its desolate fields beyond.
' You, Sir Vincent ? ' Blake was not so con-
temptuous of the new baronet as he had been for
the first few weeks, but he could not altogether
'stomach him,' as he phrased it.
' I mean I shall find the capital. I intend to
study farming ; and among the needy enthusiasts
you talk of I shall look out a servant, not a tenant.'
' There's that man Eandle down by Faverton,'
suggested Blake presently, ' he might undertake it if
you made it worth his while. Father or son either
would do ; but the son has married himself there
into one of the downright good yeoman families, and
THE INSANE ROOT 137
has too many irons in the fire for his wife to let
him away in a hurry. He's perhaps a bit too theoreti-
cal too. Now the father sits looser to Faverton, and
is getting old for so many acres as he has there.'
' He is probably the man I want,' said Vincent.
' We might write and sound him about it. I re-
member to have heard my father speak of him as
sensible and hard-working.'
It did not occur to the young man that Mr.
Handle, the Faverton farmer, had anything to do
with Nannie, but his thoughts were running more
than ever upon the girl ; and he intended to go
and see her the very first thing in the morning.
Was this odious day never coming to an end ?
What did he care about farms and farmers ? The
first thing to-morrow morning he would see lovely
Nannie again !
But to-night, when it was getting late, Lucy, a
raw Faverton girl, sent accidentally in John's ab-
sence to open the hall door, came with an announce-
ment. ' If you please, sir, there's a young woman
on the door-step who wants to speak to you ; and
I think she's a beggar,' continued Lucy, ' for she has
very red hair and she begun to cry, and I couldn't
make out what name she said.'
Vincent had divined instantaneously who it was,
and was gone, without awaiting these explanations
138 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
Yes, it was Nannie, standing outside the very
forbidding -looking ancient hall -door, and by the
time Vincent had got to her, and had, touching her
slender wrist to do so, led her into the great hall
with its panelling, its coloured windows, oak chests,
suits of armour, and open fireplace, she had
swallowed her tears and was resolved to be brave
' Oh, please, sir,' cried Nannie, clasping her hands,
' forgive me for disturbing you, but Alick is so
dreadfully bad ! He has been queer all day, and
doesn't hear half we say to him. And he keeps
asking for you, sir ; and I got so puzzled — I thought
maybe you'd come and see him, and say what I
ought to do.'
' To be sure I will, Nannie,' said Vincent, all his
resentment against Alick vanishing at sight of her
distress ; ' but I'm a poor doctor. You had better
consult Lady Katharine.' Nannie shook her head.
' Sir, it isn't doctoring he wants of you. Please,
I'd sooner you came alone.'
She was thinking unutterable things about her
poor Alick and Sir Vincent, but not one of them
could she say ; could, indeed, only look up at the
gentleman piteously, with tear -filled eyes. And
Vincent looked at her in return, — a long silent look,
very much longer than either of them knew.
' I will go with you, Nannie,' said Vincent
THE INSANE ROOT 139
at last; and a pink spot burned on her cheek.
The idea of the long lonely walk with him gave
Nannie an agitated feeling that did not seem
exactly shyness, and which was so new she could
not be sure if it were pleasure or discomfort.
But as they hurried through the moonless night
they scarcely spoke. The girl knew the path best,
and her steady little feet never slipped nor faltered.
Only once, when a wave louder than usual struck
the rock below with a thunder roar, and at the
same moment the black form of some wild animal
started from her feet with a scream, Nannie sprang
back with a shudder and a little cry, and Vincent
laid his hand reassuringly on her shoulder. ' Don't
be frightened,' he said, softly, and as they moved on
the hand was not taken away. Nannie liked it a
great deal too much to object. As they neared
their destination Nannie suddenly stopped and
looked at him, flushing nervously.
' Please, sir — you were just going to be so good
to Alick — will you ever be able to forget what he
— what Alick did yesterday ? ' she faltered.
' I should like to understand that matter a little
before forgetting it,' he said. Nannie walked on
and he followed, wishing he had let Alick and his
'Neither do I understand it,' said the girl
piteously ; ' Alick was angry with me too, but I
140 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
don't know why. And he is very miserable ; and
I have forgiven him.'
' I can't forgive him for vexing youl said Vincent,
' but if you wish it, I will think no more of his in-
solence to me! Had Nannie been in the least re-
sponsive he might have persevered in that soft
suggestive tone. As it was, the rest of the journey
was made in silence.
' Sir,' said Alick, after a long, drowsy pause, in
which Vincent had waited uncomfortably and im-
patiently, vexed with Nannie who had left him,
not interested in Alick, and having come merely to
please the girl and to be with her ; thinking of her
incessantly, fingering a book she had been reading
with her name in it, and half-proposing to write
her a little note and leave it within the pages for
her finding in some silent hour of her night-watch
with the sufferer : — ' Sir, I have been trying all the
evening to think what it was I was wanting to say
to you, but it was gone from me like Nebuchad-
nezzar's dream. I know now, and you must listen.'
' Say on,' said Vincent, wishing him at Jericho,
and thrusting Nannie's little blue -covered, old-
fashioned volume into his breast-pocket. Alick
saw the action.
' Come here, sir. We'll have no talk of my
leaving Everwell, Sir Vincent ; yovHl not find it so
easy to get me aioay from my girl!
THE INSANE ROOT 141
' Your sister ? ' said the visitor, easily, but feeling
himself flushing ; what right had this man to dis-
cern that unheeded suggestion of his worst self ?
' She ain't my sister ! ' shouted Alick, with
sudden vehemence, all his various emotions bursting
forth at the sound of the cool, careless tone ; ' maybe
if she had been my sister I'd have minded, but it
wouldn't have crazed me like it did. Nannie ain't
my sister. She's my sweetheart.'
Vincent had a sensation as if the walls of the
little room were crushing in upon him and suffo-
cating him. But he answered coldly, almost dis-
dainfully, ' Indeed ? I was not aware. You are
to be congratulated. Suppose you took your sweet-
heart with you ? ' This coolness was disconcerting
to Alick, who wanted to quarrel.
' I will never accept no favours from a man I
am not friends with ! ' he cried, ' and who thinks, I
suppose, with his favours to buy '
' Come now, Alick, this is absurd. You were
excited yesterday and under some misapprehension.
I am not going to stand in your light because of
rubbish like that.'
' Ay, it was aU my fault, you think ? and you
are kind enough to forgive me ? How often have
you seen my Nannie, sir ? '
' Oh, is that what you are at ? I don't know,
and I don't care if I never see her again. Your
142 MR. BR YANT'S MISTAKE
question is ridiculous.' And Vincent resolved to
call some one and leave the house. His ears were
tingling, for he was not in the habit of lying. The
other looked hard at him, reading him through with
a much keener perception than Vincent had for him-
self; and Alick discerned the lie; discerned also
that the gentleman had disliked being driven to it.
* Look here, sir,' he said, more temperately, ' will
you pledge me your word, on your honour, which
I'm thinking is as good as an oath to you, that
there shan't never be no love-making between you
and Nannie ? '
' No, I will not,' said the gentleman ; ' I never
make pledges about my conduct. Nor will I permit
one single word further on this subject.'
Alick was baffled. He had no theoretical ob-
jections to being even insolent ; but there was
that in Vincent's tone which silenced him now.
Nor had he yet recovered his power of utterance
when the other, after waiting further observations
for a reasonable time, left him altogether ; pass-
ing Nannie in the doorway, who had returned
for her night watch. Frightened by the atmosphere
of storm, Nannie followed Sir Vincent's retreat with
sweet, imploring eyes, the beauty of which he felt
now for the first time thoroughly to realise. But
he went out, giving her neither word nor farewell
look ; and Alick lay back gasping, exhausted, and
THE INSANE ROOT 143
defeated, after flinging one loud curse at the
' Oh, dear lad, what is the matter ? ' said the
girl's delicious voice, still in Vincent's hearing.
But he had escaped, hurrying away into the
solitude of the night ; the sweet tones still ringing
in his ears, the beauty of the sweet eyes still
haunting his soul.
Vincent lingered long on the darkened and
silent moor, which he had so lately traversed with
his hand resting lovingly upon Nannie's warm
young shoulder. Now he was alone ; and he sat
down and let his brow sink dejectedly on his hand.
He knew exactly where he was now ; carelessness
and self-deception were no longer possible. He was
an abject fool. He had fallen in love with this
child, Nannie Eandle; — with Nannie Eandle, who,
by all the unwritten laws of justice and honour, was
out of his reach. Even Alick's blundering inter-
ference could not blind him to this fact.
It was a test that was proposed to liim. So far
Vincent had drifted through his life on the whole
in a straight course, but following the impulse and
desire of the moment. Now he was suddenly
summoned to make a stand, and by his action in
this matter, to declare not for others only, but for
himself, what manner of man he intended to be.
There was one person of whom at this moment
144 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
he had not the very faintest recollection ; the woman
he intended to marry — Georgina Bryant.
A FEW days afterwards Lady Katharine sought her
son, who was sitting gloomily biting his nails, the
instructive books open before him and his attention
' Vincent, dear, may I give you my opinion ? I
am most unwilling to say such a thing, but I have
been visiting some of the cottages a good deal this
week, and I cannot help thinking Mr. Leicester lias
neglected the parish a little. And, dear, if he
wishes to make a change, it is perhaps a pity to
persuade him to reconsider his decision.'
' Well ? I know all that,' said the son, crossly,
and then begged his mother's pardon ; who had
looked surprised at his tone, but at once, on his
apology, smiled forgiveness.
' And your cousin Augustine will, I am sure, be
delighted to give up his curacy.'
' Oh, confound it ! I am not thinking of him'
Lady Katharine looked greatly surprised again. Sir
Charles had never spoken to her so.
' I beg your pardon, mother,' repeated Vincent.
THE INSANE ROOT 145
' Yes, it is all settled about Septimius. He means
to study beetles in Sark. As to Augustine — do
you know that chap, mother ? '
' Kot at all now,' said Lady Katharine comfortably.
* Is he — efficient ? '
' Efficient ? ' Into Lady Katharine's benevolent
head the idea of a young clergyman being inefficient
had never entered. ' I haven't met him since he
was a lad. You remember the Easter holidays he
spent with you, Vincent, and what a nice '
' I remember thinking him a prig.'
'I suppose, Vincent, you will respect your dear
father's intentions ?'
Vincent frowned and was silent for some moments.
* I cannot think,' he said, slowly, * that my father
would have given an important charge to a man he
knew nothing about. Anyway — I won't.'
' Shall we invite him now ? ' asked the widow,
' No, I couldn't judge of a man to order. But I
know nothing suitable about him. He is scarcely
older than I am myself, and he has bad health and
a priggish disposition. Why should I pitch upon
him ? '
' Because he's your cousin, Vincent ! ' cried Lady
Katharine, astonished at his ignorance of simple
' But I don't like that sort of nepotism. I mean
VOL. I 10
146 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
to have a man who to my knowledge understands
his business. That is of more importance than his
relationship to me.'
' But, indeed, Vincent, you are hasty. You
should not decide against Augustine in this way.
Have you perhaps some friend you want to bring
here ? '
' Favouritism, you think, mrsus nepotism ?
Well, I don't know much about parsons, nor do I
hold with them altogether myself. Still, I am
fortunate in an acquaintance with one. / ham
already offered the living to Mr. Bryant!
Lady Katharine had one merit, she always gave
in when she saw that her mankind was resolved.
And her son's friendship with the 'nice clergy-
man' had always pleased her. So she only re-
' I think, dear, you have been hasty about
Augustine ; still, I am sure from your description
Mr. Bryant would be admirably adapted to the
needs of the place, and I hope, if you decide
upon it, you will be able to induce him to
' That's settled then,' said Vincent, who still
looked gloomy. Presently he said, ' I have already
heard of a probable tenant and possible purchaser
for Faverton ; I think I must go there at once and
invite him to stay for a day oi two and look about
THE INSANE ROOT 147
the place well. Will you come with me ? And
whether I come to terms with him or not — he
doesn't want possession immediately — I propose
that you and I should remain there for the rest of
the winter.' Lady Katharine was quite bewildered
now, especially by her son's expression of profound
' But not on my account, dear ? I thought
you were so anxious to stay here for the pre-
' I have changed my mind.' She was still looking
at him in dismay ; certainly he was very hasty.
'Perhaps, Vincent,' ventured the widow cautiously,
' you will change your mind about selling
' No. But I have a reason, a perfectly good one,
though I don't care to explain it, for not wishing to
be here for the next three or four months. Faverton
is still on our hands ; let us go there. Or if you
would rather go abroad, say so. I will take you to
Eome if you wish it,' said Vincent, in a low
Lady Katharine at once understood everything.
She had gathered from her son that the lady, the
eminently suitable lady whom he loved, was in
Eome this winter. His gloom, his irritation, his
change of purpose was obviously connected with her.
Poor dear boy ! And she had been feeling surprised
148 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
and even displeased at him, when perhaps he was
'Dearest Vincent/ she said, putting her arm
round his neck tenderly, ' I will do whatever you
like. Perhaps, dear,' she said, sympathetically,
' by yourself, you would be better able '
Vincent laughed. ' We are at cross purposes,
mother. Come, if you will do exactly what I like,
then we will go together to Faverton, and stay there
for the present. I may wish to go to Eome later,
but I am not in a hurry.'
Evidently something was wrong with Sir Vincent.
He stood long at the library window when he was
left alone this morning, looking out wistfully as if
half expecting to see Nannie's graceful figure coming
over the cliff again with a message for him. But
there was no sign of her, and at last he turned
away with an impatient sigh. He took down some
books from his shelves which he fancied she would
like, and wrote her name in them ; then made them
and her little blue volume (carried away in his pocket)
into a parcel, with a slip of paper inside it on which
he wrote, Tor your sweetheart, with my compliments.
I hope I shall find her your wife upon my return
in the spring.'
The parcel was sent by Dr. Verrill, who reported
to Sir Vincent on Alick's condition. ' The fellow
gets a brain fever now and then,' said the experi-
THE INSANE ROOT 149
mentalist, contentedly ; ' it does him good. It's like
the woman's anguish remembered no more when
she has her man-child. His temper was diabolical
till he sickened the first time ; after his second
attack he became a Christian and a vegetarian.
But what's the matter with yourself, young sir ?
You look as if a brain fever or something would
be a relief to your system.' Vincent laughed, and
trusted the little doctor with his parcel.
' But you will be sure/ he said, ' to put it into
the hands of the man himself when he has recovered.
Don't give it to the girl, or to any one else.'
As Sir Vincent and his mother drove to Tans-
wick Station on their way to Faverton a day or
two later, they passed Nannie Eandle standing
in the road watching for the carriage. Vincent
resolutely looked at the horses' ears, and Nannie
got not so much as a glance — still less the smile
she had been expecting. So disappointed was she
that tears filled her eyes as she stood there alone on
the moor. Alick had tossed her the books crossly
enough, but had said not one word about Sir
Vincent ; he had recovered from his illness and
partly from his suspicions. At any rate Nannie
was innocent, and if Sir Vincent was going away,
well — perhaps it was all right. He would say
nothing to frighten her now at any rate. Nannie
carried her books aside, and for a long time sat
ISO MR. Bryant's MISTAKE
gazing at her name in his beautiful writing. There
was no way she could thank him ; Alick had refused
to let her send a message or to take it herself.
But she watched for the carriage : smiles at least
were free, and Sir Vincent would understand.
Why, oh why, would he not look round ?
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE
Mr. Bkyant was vicar of the London parish where
his second marriage had found Mm curate. That
much promotion had come to him early. He was a
man of some standing and popularity, who wrote
for rehgious magazines and was always in request
to occupy vacant pulpits. His church was well
filled, and his parish, an uninteresting one, was
always mentioned as well and successfully worked.
Mr. Bryant was on the whole well satisfied with
his position, and devoted to good works. For
the son of a small country grocer, he had got on
very well; indeed by this time the grocery con-
nection was entirely forgotten : the clergyman had
acquired the manners of society, and it never
occurred to any one to ask who he was, or where he
had come from. As to Mrs. Bryant, well, she was
a very quiet woman; stay-at-home, because her
thoughts were much in the past, and she was ill at
ease in what she called ' company.' She was child-
less, and consequently apt to be sorrowful ; and she
154 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
had lost her beauty of face and figure ; in fact, she
had not kept pace with her husband ; but he never
confessed even to himself that he was disappointed,
and indeed long habit had in great measure blinded
him to the fact. Mr. Bryant worked hard in his
parish and outside it, while Emma sat at home
with her needlework and housekeeping ; whenever
she liked she drove in the parks, or went for long,
interesting, shopping excursions to Shoolbred's.
Years had passed in this manner, and then one or
two little circumstances waked Mr. Bryant up, as it
were ; and set him asking himself, not only if he
had ' got on ' as far as he had originally intended,
but as far as was possible for the man he was.
That instinct for ' getting on ' is very valuable,
whether to nation or to individual ; but the man
who wants to ' get on ' should beware of chaining
himself to a lagging companion. One of two
results must inevitably follow from that blunder ;
either he will be brought to a premature standstill,
possibly ill-humoured ; or the laggard will be forced
beyond his speed : and he who goes beyond his speed
goes to destruction.
The first little circumstance was that the Bishop
of X made Mr. Bryant's acquaintance through
his brother, an admiring college friend of the London
vicar's. The Bishop took a violent fancy to Mr.
Bryant, and very nearly offered him an excellent
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 155
country living in his gift, close to the pleasant
cathedral town, where was the Palace and much
valuable sacerdotal society. The idea of that living
made Mr. Bryant's teeth water ; he had not known
till the suggestion was made how tired he was of
London and his daily laborious and ill-paid routine.
The Bishop spent a day with him, took luncheon at
the vicarage, and conversed friendlily, if somewhat
shyly or stiffly, with Emma. In imagination Mr.
Bryant took up residence in the country parson-
age by the cathedral town. But the Bishop left
London, and !Mr. Bryant never heard more of the
fat living, nor did he ever understand what had
been the slip between the cup and the lip. Only
it happened that his lordship, a careless man, and
writing on the same day to his brother and to Mr.
Bryant, put the letters into the wrong envelopes, and
Mr. Bryant, who of course read no farther than ' My
dear brother,' did accidentally catch sight of the
words, * wife would not be adapted to the society
of ' He had no reason in the world to suppose
that the remark had any connection with himself.
Still it struck him and remained in his mind,
playing the part of some accidental sound or flash
of light which wakes the sleeper just before the
housemaid brings the hot water and opens the
shutters. And the second little circumstance was
Sir Vincent Leicester's description of the absent
156 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
Georgina and desire to marry her. A boyish, an
absurd, a preposterous idea ; but again Mr. Bryant
couldn't forget it ; and after thinking it over and
learning a little more about his daughter, and hearing
from herself and others that Vincent was not her
only distinguished suitor, he sighed a little, and
hoped he not been over hasty and over scrupulous
in quenching his favourite pupil's pretensions.
And just after he had arrived at this point came
young Sir Vincent's very nice, modest, and affection-
ate letter, offering him the vacant living^ of Everv^ell.
It was not exactly promotion, as that fat living
near X would have been ; still it is evident that
the offer was tempting, and for more reasons than one.
Only Emma hesitated and threw cold water. 'You are
so sanguine, Edward,' she said, with a sigh ; ' and the
young man will be always talking to us of Faverton.'
' Nonsense, my love, nonsense,' said Mr. Bryant,
and made up his mind. No sooner was his ap-
pointment to the vacant benefice announced than
welcoming letters from acquaintances in the new
diocese poured in upon him. He was surprised to
find he had already a reputation there, and felt that
he was going to make a mark in his new parish, out
of the world though it seemed.
' You are always so sanguine, Edward,' repeated
Mrs. Bryant ; 'I am sure I hope you won't repent it.'
The very day before they left London for the
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 157
north a letter arrived which perplexed Mr. Bryant
not a little. It was from Georgina.
' I hope, dearest papa, it will be convenient to
you to receive me immediately. Auntie has emphatic
reasons for wishing my temporary departure, and I
am anxious for a long hoUday. I will give you
further explanations when we meet.'
' Most extraordinary,' commented Mr. Bryant ;
* and inconvenient.'
'Any other papa would be glad his daughter
was coming home,' said Emma ; ' she'll be company
for me, and I never could bear her being away so
much with that foreign woman. It would serve us
right if she turned Papist, or outlandish, or some-
' Nonsense, my love,' said Mr. Bryant as usual ;
but he was disquieted, and set off for his new parish
nervously. Wliat would Sir Vincent think ? And
what might not his lady mother think ? Georgina's
advent was premature.
If I were writing the history of Georgina Bryant, I
should have to enter into many particulars of that
winter of hers in Eome, for it had considerable
158 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
influence on her character. As it is, I need but
briefly explain the quarrel between her and her so-
' I hope, Georgina,' that lady had said, ' before
the winter is over to have the satisfaction of arrang-
ing a suitable marriage for you.'
' Dear auntie,' said the girl, ' have we become so
un-English ? sha'n't I arrange my own marriage ?'
This was the season when Georgina was writing
playful, familiar, affectionate letters to her dear
cousin Vincent, whom she believed herself in love
with, and whom she meant to retain as a lover.
But she had abandoned all idea of marrying him.
A rich, adoring, learned, noble, elderly husband,
and crowds of admirers, of whom Vincent Leicester
was chief, — that was Georgina's ideal at present.
She wrote familiarly to Vincent, and she flirted
with this man and that ; but she was all the while
trying on Lord Cookham's coronet, deciding that it
fitted, and wondering why he did not come to the
point. Georgina certainly became presuming at this
time, and the Baroness was displeased. However,
the nobleman spoke at last.
One day the Baroness called Georgina to her,
and said she wished to thank the dear girl for the
solicitous kindness she had ever shown to one whose
life had been early shattered by the cruellest blow
a woman's fate has at command. Georgina returned
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 159
to her French novel till her aunt had exhausted
this strain. She descanted further upon the deso-
lation of a young and childless widow.
Georgina, without looking up, remarked that a
moneyless spinster was in a worse position, and an
old bride was a more disagreeable spectacle. The
lady's eye flashed, but she put her handkerchief to
her eyes and lamented for her deceased Austrian
husband. Georgina thought more of this would
drive her distracted.
* Why did you never tell me, dearest auntie,' she
cried, ' that he was so beloved ? ' The Baroness
dropped the sentimental air, wdiich indeed became
her but indifferently, and said —
' I have to speak to you, my dear, of marriage,
but I see it will suit you best to describe it as a
purely business transaction. Lord Cookham has
spoken to me, Georgina.' The girl's eyes sparkled,
and she^kissed the lady effusively. ' I have accepted
his offer,' said the Baroness.
' What, without consulting me ? ' said the de-
' Your affectation of importance is absurd, my
dear. No, I have not consulted a child like you.'
' Oh, well, auntie dear, I have my own opinion,
you know. Have you considered the difference of
age, for instance ? It is highly disagreeable for the
younger married person to be in constant attendance
i6o MR, BRYANTS MISTAKE
on one getting infirm and sickly and decrepit, —
perhaps paralyzed, like old Colonel Endelby.'
The Baroness rose in great dudgeon and said the
girl was impertinent. ' I have known Lord Cook-
ham for so long,' she went on ; ' the state of his
affections has been the same for so many years, his
heart and mind and soul have been so laid
' Yes,' said Georgina, ' but all this should have
been laid bare to me, if I am to marry him.'
The Baroness turned and looked hard at her
adopted daughter, half pityingly, half scornfully,
' You, Georgina ? ' she said, with a laugh ; ' you,
my dear child ?'
The girl understood now as by a lightning flash,
and covered her discomfiture by a hearty fit of
laughter, whether at herself or her aunt, who could
From henceforth it was war. Georgina could
not forget that she had been made a fool of. Nor
could the Baroness forget that her dependent had
been her rival. Lord Cookham, for years an
avowed admirer of the widow, — she was only five
years his senior, — had come to Eome with the
express intention of seeking her hand. It was,
however, true that his admiring eyes had strayed
away to Georgina, and that this fact had very much
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE l6l
delayed the proposal extorted from him at last by
the dowager. Georgina soon understood it all, and
took measures accordingly. Though it had become a
matter of theft, she was more firmly resolved than
ever to marry Lord Cookham ; she was now not
merely covetous, she was burning for revenge.
There ensued a secret and very reprehensible
flirtation between the two, while the gentleman was
nominally betrothed to the widow. Georgina gained
a confession that he had proposed from a sense of
duty, and would escape from his engagement to-
morrow if it could be accomplished unscandalously.
Yet he sighed, for his widow w^as rich and import-
ant, well-informed and worthy ; while Georgina
was just a handsome but ignorant and probably
troublesome nobody — not at all the sort of wife to
suit him in reality. Georgina sighed too, and gave
him to understand she was dying of love. And
then one day there was some "kissing, which had
nothing to do with the proposed relation of uncle
and niece, and the Baroness saw it ; and the moment
of the crisis had come.
Many a woman would have thrown the perfidious
lover over at once. The Baroness was not going
to give in to the audacious Georgina in that manner.
She sent for Lord Cookham and gave him her opinion
of his conduct and of the girl's, threatening to
make the whole thing public. She explained who
VOL. I 11
1 62 MR. BRYANT^ S MISTAKE
Georgina was : just a distant relative whom she
had adopted out of charity ; her father the son of a
small tradesman, probably a pawnbroker ; her step-
mother of low origin and without a character ; the
two of them vulgar, pushing people. Georgina had
a showy manner, but by nature was pushing and
vulgar too. Lord Cookham did not believe all this,
but he believed enough to feel that the pursuit of
Georgina was a game not worth its candle. He
was very angry ; but, being the man he was, he began
to desire escape from the toils of the designing
young creature who had set herself to achieve his
ruin. He and the Baroness made it up — to out-
ward appearance at least ; and Georgina was
defeated. She tried various attitudes : she was
repentant ; she was heart -.broken ; she was love-
sick ; she was sarcastic ; she was impertinent ; and
she was always formidable. The Baroness was
not to be taken in by her a second time. She
must be crushed. Georgina was dismissed ; and
with a long statement of accounts which proved
that her constant habit of overdrawing her allowance
had left her largely in debt to her benefactress.
She spent a fortnight with some friends, who tried
unsuccessfully to mediate between her and her
relative, and upon failure, turned against the girl.
She wrote to Lord Cookham, now safe in Austria ;
he sent no answer for a month, and then declined
IL L WEEDS GROW APACE 163
to see her again, apologised lamely, and said that
the wedding was fixed for the morrow.
Georgina was under her father's roof by the
time she received that letter, for none of her
enemies had relented, and she had no other home to
go to. She had played for too high stakes, and
' ^0 matter,' she said, ' that sort of game re-
quires practice. I was a beginner. And all is not
lost. I have gained experience ; and I will marry
my dear boy Vincent. After all, I detested Cook-
ham, and I daresay it is more comfortable when
one's kisses come from a man one likes. But I shall
make a point of cultivating Lord Cookham when I
am Lady Leicester. The old woman shall again
suffer the stings of jealousy.'
To receive the new parson, Sir Vincent Leicester
returned to Everwell in the early days of sunny
June. He was in high good humour, for he was
full of energy, had let his place at Faverton advan-
tageously, and was, he believed, able to laugh at his
folly about Nannie Eandle. Even Alick he greeted
with friendliness, for the man had made a voluntary
i64 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
apology, and Sir Vincent, aware that the rupture
had been partly his own fault, convinced too that
Alick had been temporarily crazy, had decided
against any manifestations of resentment. And,
indeed, upon his return, he found Alick risen to a
position so dignified that it was necessary to treat
him with respect.
Mr. Bryant, the new parson, was admitted by all
to be the coming Messiah ; but who ever heard of a
Messiah without a forerunner — a John the Baptist ?
Alick Eandle had accepted the situation. For with
the hot weather typhus had broken out in the fish-
ing village, and great consequent alarm, which Alick,
seeing his opportunity, partly allayed and partly
fomented by the introduction of a sudden and spread-
ing fervency of religion. His last salutary attack
of brain fever had left him increased in wisdom and
moral stature, and in favour with God and man.
This was Dr. Verrill's account. Alick himself only
said modestly that the call to preach had come, and
it was not for him to resist. ' Things took their way
gradually, you see, my lady,' he explained. 'When
Sir Vincent wrote to me that I was to get this little
shed in the village highway turned into a building
for a Sunday schoolhouse, at the request of the new
minister, it was borne in on my mind very strongly
that it was a temple for the Lord we were called
to build, like Moses or Solomon. And I got talking
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 165
of it natural like to a many of the men about, and
without meaning it, that come into a sort of preach-
ment. And when it came to the adorning of the
house, I found there wasn't no one who had had it
put into his heart so clear as into mine, like Bezaleel
and Aholiab, what was wanted. So I have done it
myself, and the folk used to come and look on ; and
then it came natural to speak to them a bit. But
when we have the new minister among us, then
I cannot think it will be my place to preach any
Lady Katharine was pious, and could not at once
find a flaw in Alick's title to a hearing. Besides he
was impressive in this little temple he had planned
and beautified out of slender materials. He was
working at an illuminated text as he spoke,
watched by a knot of young people, at once respect-
ful and curious, and as the sunshine shone on
his earnest face and swift steady hand. Lady
Katharine and Sir Vincent watched and wondered
and admired also, and listened to what he said.
No doubt Alick Eandle had some spiritual power of
commanding attention, but much of his influencing
force was purely physical. He had eyes that made
you look at him, and a voice that made you hear.
Alick never was five minutes in any company that
every one was not looking ' to see what he was going
to do.' Everwell had been watching Alick all his
1 66 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
life to see what he was going to do. Was he to be
a handy carpenter like Jim Leach, or a celebrated
' hartist ' like his grandfather ? For long he had
been undecided and desultory. But the call had
come now, and he had stepped boldly forth. His role
was understood at once : he was to be a Voice crying
in the wilderness — a forerunner of the new minister
who was coming to save the souls of the people.
Before the new parson's arrival Mrs. Leach had
a question to ask. She was telling her son about
her first visit to their newly-arrived relatives at the
Home Farm. 'It was so long since I'd seen 'em,
Alick, my dear,' she said, ' it quite upset me. " Ben,"
says T, " my heart goes out to you, a widow man
still and me a widow woman again." There's
nothing like one's own kindred for drawing aside the
curtains of the heart and making one reveal secrets
— meaning my first husband's kindred, so they be.'
' And did you reveal secrets, mother ? ' said
' Oh no. I'm a very secret woman,' said Mrs.
Leach, who had but a hazy recollection of that
agitating conversation ; ' still I talked a bit of
Nannie, who was a babe when her mother was took,
and I been like a second parent to her. Her father
never was grateful like he ought ; but gratitood,
Alick, is not what a single-hearted and double-
widowed woman like me should look after in this
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 167
life. No one can say I ain't a prudent woman/ con-
tinued Mrs. Leach, ' when I didn't even tell the
name of the new minister who's a-coming, and they
not knowing it, poor ignorant bodies.'
*■ Why shouldn't you have told his name ? '
' Eun away, Sal ; run away, Liz, my pretty dears.
I'm talking confidences with your good brother.
Why now, Alick,' and she came nearer and dropped
her voice, 'Alick, my lad, the new parson's name is
Bryant. Now that's the very name of my brother-
in-law who married Emma, and is a parson, and
made her a lady.'
Alick had often heard of that parsonical brother-
in-law, and was highly sceptical about him. Mr.
Bryant and Aunt Emma, so Nannie reported, were
never mentioned at the farm, as would have been
only natural had they been so creditable to the
family. Alick had a recollection of Aunt Emma
when he had been a small boy at Faverton, and she
a tearful woman pleading for something stern Aunt
Sarah refused to give. That recollection gave no
exalted impression of Aunt Emma, and Alick had
long arrived at the conclusion that Bryant was some
kind of swindler.
At this moment Sir Vincent came in, and Mrs.
Leach was going to mention the coincidence when
Alick hastily interposed, to prevent allusion to the
1 68 MR. BRYANTS MISTAKE
ambiguous brother-in-law. 'Mother was saying,
sir/ said Alick, ' that she once knew a minister
named Bryant who belonged to London, and was
wondering if it could be the same ; ' and Vincent
replied that Bryant was a common name, and
London a large place, and he believed — he was not
sure — that his Mr. Bryant came from Essex, or per-
haps from Manchester. And Mrs. Leach said she
had known her Mr. Bryant at Faverton in the days
of her first husband, poor dear Jim Eandle.
' Oh, then, it is clearly not the same,' said
Vincent. ' Mr. Bryant never heard of Faverton ex-
cept from me ; ' and the subject dropped. Vincent
could have given no direct authority for that last
statement ; but he had made it in good faith, the
result of many conversations with his tutor in old
times, when the name of the pupil's home had come
into the talk.
' I told you it wasn't the same, mother,' said
Alick, gruffly ; but Mrs. Leach was not entirely con-
vinced, though she held her peace, being a prudent
and a secret woman.
Then Vincent started for Tanswick, where he was
to meet Mr. and Mrs. Bryant. There was no particu-
lar cause for elation, but he did feel elated ; so did
Mr. Bryant himself when he arrived, and so did
Alick, his forerunner, who had walked far along the
road for a first glimpse of the man of God. How
IL L WEEDS GR W A PA CE \ 69
his face lighted up when he saw the attractive,
benevolent, good countenance of the new clergyman,
for whom he had prayed and on whom he was stak-
ing his hopes. The artist in Alick saw at once that
the expression, the voice, the manner were verily
those of the ideal pastor. His prayers were heard !
God had a favour unto Everwell ! ' Her day of
darkness was ended ; the dawn of her righteousness
' Hallo, Alick ! ' sang out Sir Vincent, ' tell Mrs.
Leach I left my pencil-case at her house, and ask
her to send up one of the lads with it.' From which
remark and a few added explanations the quick-
witted Mr. Bryant made a mental note — ^
* Alick Leach ; influential, godly ; to be treated
with friendliness and some caution.'
Alick went to bed that night as pleased as
possible ; but both Sir Vincent and Mr. Bryant had
felt a sobering touch on their spirits. To each it
had come from Emma.
Vincent had taken for granted that his friend's
wife would be charming. She proved not only
tumbled and dusty, but stout and too hot ; a little
fretful and very shy ; obviously, not ideal like
Mr. Bryant. The crowd round the parsonage door,
which delighted every one else, alarmed her and
made her awkward. There was the postman with
his mouth wide open : and the baker, and the sexton,
170 MR. BRYANTS MISTAKE
and old John the butler, and all the young Leaches,
and a group of fishermen ; and young Joe Eandle,
the newcomer, with a straw in his mouth, and a
gorgeous necktie. And there was Miss Verrill in
a pot hat and a much abbreviated skirt, sitting
smoking on the wall ; and the coatless doctor smell-
ing some lichen he had found in the crevices. Miss
Verrill jumped down and rushed across the road to
seize Mrs. Bryant's hand, crying, ' I am glad, ma'am,
to welcome you to Everwell. Female society has
been at a discount here.'
Mrs. Bryant was terrified, and turned her back
on the apparition. Then she saw the doctor running
away with a basket she had cherished for the whole
journey, and which contained some ill-packed china,
her best cap, the remains of sandwiches, and a pot
of begonia. The latter article had attracted the
vegetarian, and he was already eating the one young
leaf. ' Edward,' said Mrs. Bryant, stung into speech,
' will you require that rude man to let my things
alone.' The Verrills both took a dislike to Mrs.
Bryant. And now, worst of all, the stately Lady
Katharine and her formidable maid appeared at the
hall door. They had come an hour ago to see that
all was ready, and had themselves prepared a dainty
tea in the dining-room, while the charwoman held
up her hands, saying, ' Eh now, my lady ! Lord
bless us ! my lady ! '
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 171
But the charwoman was less confused than poor
Emma, who had seen Lady Katharine Kane in her
youth, and regarded her as a far-off divinity. When
Sir Vincent's mother offered her hand, Mrs. Bryant
drew hers awkwardly back ; she sat down on the
chair her husband had placed for Lady Katharine,
and then discovering her mistake, jumped up
nervously, and could hardly be induced to sit down
at all. She almost let slip 'My lady,' like a
country girl again. Mr. Bryant had never observed
his wife so awkward before, and was unspeakably
* Vincent, love,' said Lady Katharine, when later
she and her son were walking home together, ' Mr.
Bryant is exactly what I expected from your descrip-
tion. I am so delighted to have him here ; but
tell me, did it strike you that Mrs. Bryant is a
little — ^just a very little — what I should be tempted
to call underhred, you know ?' And then his mother
proceeded cautiously, but with certain suspicions in
her mind, to give him another shock. ' She tells
me,' said Lady Katharine, ' that Miss Bryant, her
stepdaughter, is coming here very soon.' After this
there was silence ; they were both foreseeing com-
plications, and Vincent's elation had all oozed out
at his finger ends.
172 MR. Bryant's mistake
During all these months Alick had kept silence to
Nannie, while she had lived on in his mother's
house, his daily friend and companion. The frivolities
of innocent courtship which might have grown up
in the early days of his affection had been effectually
nipped in the bud by that dark suspicion of Sir
Vincent, and by his own sombre religious views,
the influence of which spread daily. Nor had love
of the mating kind as yet entered into Nannie's
thoughts ; nay, a hint of it, a suspicion that it could
be in Alick's, offended her. But now, in June, this
chapter in their lives was closed, for Nannie's father
had come to Everwell, and it was not to be expected
that the girl would be left with her aunt, nor that
her intimacy with Alick could continue without
some definite relationship. Alick had made up his
mind to speak to her plainly ; and he had good
hopes, for he knew that Nannie was as fond of him
as she could possibly be of any one short of a lover.
This evening she had been with him in the new
schoolhouse — his temple, as he called it — watching
him complete a little bit of decoration, and helping
him to arrange the benches for the new parson's
dehnt. 'And now we'll walk over to the farm,
ILL WEEDS GR W A FA CE 1 73
Alick, won't we ? ' said Nannie, tapping his arm.
'I can't think however they'll do here. Why
they'll be foreigners ! But I now, I'm like Ever-
well born and bred, ain't I, Alick ? '
He looked at her flushed cheek, and his own grew
very pale ; yes, that chapter in their lives was ended.
Alick pointed to the little chancel he had contrived,
for in his ignorance he had made his temple as like the
church as he could, and to the dark oak table which
stood under the high-up eastern window — an altar
surely, and God's unseen angel for officiating priest!
' Nannie, lass, come up there a minute and kneel
with me.' Nannie obeyed rather listlessly.
'Will God hear us more here than on the rocks
or the hills, Alick ? ' she asked.
' I suppose so, Nan, or why should we have
churches or temples ? But, lassie, I pray this prayer
to Him everywhere, lest, after all, He might like best
the sea strand or the hillside as He made Himself ; '
and he took her hand and led her to the step of
the little chancel, the girl consenting, but half un-
willing. He had a fancy that it was the hour of
their spiritual marriage. ' I will tell thee all pre-
sently,' said Alick ; ' but ask Him to grant it first,
Nannie ! Pray for it earnestly. It is not a common
thing, and it is life or death to me.' Nannie sprang
to her feet.
' Oh, Alick, come away. I can't pray like that.
174 MR. Bryant's MISTAKE
God wouldn't like it. It is like — Alick, it is like
the Wishing Well ! ' Alick looked round shuddering,
as if her words had been those of some alien spirit.
' Lad/ said IN'annie, apologetically, ' say out what it
is, and we'll ask Him together. I know it's right
to ask God for everything ; only not telling me ! it
made me feel as if we were playing with Him.'
' Ay, maybe I was wrong ! Maybe God thought
I was playing with Him ! If He don't hear me,
Nannie, I'll know its punishment.'
' Tell me what it is, Alick, dear,' said l^annie
gently. He let his eyes rest on her sweet, fair face,
and his voice was almost soundless from emotion
when he answered, slowly, after a pause —
' Nannie, I'll say it here at God's footstool. I
want thee for my lass, Nannie ; for my wife.' Then
he rose suddenly and would have embraced her ; but
Nannie, with a little scream, flung him from her,
starting back and standing defiantly at a short dis-
tance, her hands clasped and her eyes flashing.
' I will not have you nor no one saying such
things to me, Alick ! ' she said, angrily, and turned
away, going to the door and waiting there im-
periously for him to come and open it. Alick was
alarmed by what he had done ; after all his waiting,
he had spoken too soon.
In a few minutes, as Alick did not move and
she was imprisoned with him, Nannie walked back
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 175
with stately step, shook his arm, and then stood
before him with an air of quivering scorn. ' I
couldn't think of marrying you, Alick,' she said. 'I
won't. There ! '
Alick simply turned aw^ay. Then Xannie re-
turned to the door without looking back till she
' Are you going to leave me to walk up alone,
Alick ? '
' Where to ? ' said he.
' Home — to father.' He roused himself.
' You'll come back afterw^ards wdth me, lass ? '
' No ; I shall stop there after this,' said Nannie,
proudly. ' Unlock the door, Alick.'
He followed her out, turning the key as usual,
while Nannie stood beside him, holding his paint-
brushes ; none of the bystanders noticed anything
different from yesterday about them. Then they
walked away through the falling dusk, Alick hurry-
ing along in front and Nannie following as best she
could ; both sternly silent, but thinking hard. After
a long time Alick noticed her lagging and he heard
a little sob. Looking back, he found Nannie in
tears, and as he stopped she joined him, and put
out a gentle hand and laid it in his.
' Forgive me, dear lad, if I haven't answered you
properly,' said little Nannie ; ' I'm not at all used
to have such things said to me.'
176 MR. BRYANfS MISTAKE
' Nan,' said Alick, abruptly, ' you hadn't meant
to leave us for good and all. Forget them foolish
words of mine and come back home, lassie.'
' If I thought you didn't mean it, Alick ! '
' Mean it, lass ? I meant it sure enough. I
know very well, Nannie, I'm crooked and ill-
favoured, and ill to live with '
' Alick, how can you ? ' interrujfted Nannie, ' as
if all that would matter in any one one loved ! '
'Ay, lass, but women aren't like to love a man
with those qualities,' said Alick, sadly. Nannie
was silent for a moment. His tone moved her.
' Oh, Alick, I couldn't ; I couldn't marry anybody !
I never thought of marrying before. I thought you
were like my brother. I never thought of anything
else. It isn't right for cousins to marry, is it ? '
she said, desperately.
' Ay, it is, Nannie,' said Alick. You don't care
for no one else, lassie ? Set my mind at ease by
saying that.' Nannie's cheek grew hot.
'No, Alick, I never thought of marrying. I'm
only seventeen,' she said, hastily and incoherently.
' I have never seen a man it would do for me to
want to marry.'
' Nannie ! ' said Alick, with something of a groan,
' I wish you'd marry me. I cannot think you'll be
safe without me to take care of you.'
' Safe from what, dear lad ? '
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 177
' From wicked persons, Nannie. I wish you
wasn't so pretty '
'Maybe you wouldn't have wanted me then,
Alick/ said Nannie, saucy through her tears. ' Men
aren't like to love a woman that isn't pretty.'
' Ay, Nannie, that's it,' said Alick. ' I'm afraid
some as shouldn't will be thinking you, like I do,
the prettiest lass in the world. I'd have loved thee
anyhow, dear lass.'
' Alick, I will think over what you say. Maybe
I'll love you enough some day. But you mustn't
say no more now. I'll be your little sister, like I
always was.' Then she put her hand in his.
' Maybe some day, lad ; when I'm older.'
They had reached the farmhouse now, and both
stopped by a common impulse, looking at each other
sadly before entering.
'You'll give me a kiss, Nannie, because I love
you so ? '
' I have often kissed you afore, Alick. I don't
mind kissing you now if you wish it.'
' But I don't want that sort of kiss, Nannie, like
you have given me afore.'
' I will not have you kiss me no other now,' said
Nannie, with a little relapse into offence. Then
she pushed open the door and went in ; but her
lover turned and hurried away, still left to the
agony of hope deferred.
VOL I. 12
178 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
The door opened directly on the large square hall,
where Nannie's two sisters, her sister-in-law, and
two brothers, were all assembled for the evening
meal, round an oak table of great size and antiquity,
above which hung an iron lamp, just lighted and
flaring uncomfortably. The sister-in-law, a stranger
to Nannie, was a very superb young woman in
black satin and jewellery, prodigiously admired in
her own circle, especially by her husband, a very
dapper young man who drove a dogcart, and whom
Nannie held in some awe. This couple had only
come to Everwell for a few days to see the new
place, which fact accounted for the leisurely mag-
nificence of their attire. Miss Eandle — Patty —
was dressed with extreme plainness ; her turn-down
white collar and neatly plaited hair suited her
square - featured, old-maidish, but not unpleasing
countenance. Caroline, three years younger than
Patty, was considered delicate, a beauty, and quite
the lady. Joe was the best looking, and by far the
least conceited of the family. One and all they despised
Everwell, and couldn't conceive what had bewitched
father to come to this outlandish spot where there
was no society, no style, and no convenience.
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE i79
Into this very superior family enter Nannie,
the child of nature. She was seized by a panic,
such as she had not suffered from in the presence
of even her ladyship ; so she stood in the doorway,
her hand on the latch, hesitating and trembling.
' La, Patty, whoever's this ! ' exclaimed Mrs.
John, genuinely astonished.
The brothers both thought it playful to banter
their youngest sister.
' It's the Scarlet Eunner !' said Joe.
'An Everwell fishing lass!' said John; 'go
away, my dear; herrings don't suit our stomach at
this hour. Or if it's begging you are, we don't give
to people we don't know.'
Tor shame, Nannie, coming out alone at this
hour ! ' said Patty ; and Caroline exclaimed —
' Did you ever see such a figure ? Why, she
doesn't look as respectable as Janet ! '
Nannie advanced, trembling. ' I have come
home, Patty. Aren't you going to kiss me ?
Where is father V
' Father hasn't recovered himself after the visit
he had from your Aunt Ann. He wouldn't have
come here if he had known the sort of tipsy relations
he had. I wonder you didn't tell us, Nannie ; but
I suppose you like that sort of thing, as you chose
a whole year of it. Joe, tell father Nannie has
come, dropping in by herself in the dark for all the
i8o MR. Bryant's MISTAKE
world like a repented runaway ; and ask him what
we are to do.'
Nannie was quite taken aback by this reception,
and felt her scarce-wiped tears coming again. ' Indeed,
Alick w^alked with me the whole way,' she faltered.
' I don't know as that makes it any better,'
answered Patty, severely ; ' it never was my notion
of propriety for a young woman to take long walks
of an evening alone with her young man, especially
when she's not of an age to have a young man at all'
' I don't know what you mean,' said Nannie.
' Don't you ? Perhaps you don't know we've
heard all about you and Alick. I must say,
Nannie, if it is all right and proper, as I suppose
you'll say it is, you ought to have told father your-
self, and not have left the news for a stranger to
tell, who had the last right in the world to know
anything about you and your sweethearts. Why
don't you come in, child, if you have done nothing
to be ashamed of, instead of standing there in the
door like a beggar ? '
At this moment Mr. Eandle appeared, a well-
fed, vigorous man, with an expression of much
resolution and some ill-temper.
' Father,' cried Nannie, springing forward and
seizing his hand, ' aren't you glad to see me ? What
does Patty mean ? Mayn't I come home and be
your daughter again ? '
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE i8i
' My daughter indeed ! ' said Mr. Eandle, holding
her at arm's length, ' what have you got an inkling
too ? I suppose she inkles it all round when she's
in liquor. We'll wash our dirty linen at home,
^an. You may come home, my girl, and the more
you stay at liome the better. I've heard a thing or
two of you as don't seem creditable to my daughter
as you call yourself. But look ye, Nannie ; there's
only one way out of these doubts and disgraces. I
never was partial to disgraces nor apt to be tender
to them as brought them into my family. You are
my daughter, you know, and I'll give you a portion
like the tothers, but the sooner you marry your
hunchback and take yourself off my hands the
better pleased I'll be.'
All this time the farmer had been holding the
girl by the two hands at arm's leugth ; now he
pushed her back and threw her from him with
some violence. ' Patty,' he said, ' set a place for
Nannie, and come to supper all of you.'
Nannie stood white and trembling, but erect,
facing her brothers and sisters, who were all staring
at her, and as much astonished by their father's
expressions as she was herself The dapper Mr.
John alone seemed a little sorry ; he put a chair for
her and chucked her under the chin, saying —
' Cheer up, my dear ; you haven't turned out so
ill-favoured as we expected.'
i82 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
Nannie raised a proud little head, and fixed her
eyes on her father's.
' I won't eat a bit in this house/ she said, ' till
I know what you all mean. Patty, will you show
me some place upstairs where I can be quiet and
alone ? '
' By , you shall sit at table when I bid you,'
roared the farmer ; but N'annie did not listen, nor
did she hear her father call after her as she left
the hall, 'Don't you come down no more in those
play-acting clothes, Nan, anS cut off them red locks.
However you come by 'em, I won't have no flaunting
of them in my house ; at least, not till you've
wedded your hunchback.'
Nannie was taken to a pleasant enough little
chamber looking out towards the sea, and Patty,
slightly more gracious now, said they had intended
to send for her to-morrow, and marvelled she
had not been up to see them the day they had
' Patty,' interrupted Nannie, ' what is it father
and you think I have done ? I have done nothing,
Patty ! Alick never asked me to marry him till
this evening. I never thought of such a thing.
I said. No. Of course I said, No. And I have no
home but this, Patty, for I can't go back there now
he thinks of that. But I said. No. Why is father
angry ? '
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 183
' My dear, he wishes you to marry Alick/ replied
' But I can't/ cried Nannie, vehemently ; ' I don't
want ever to marry anybody at all. Why does
father not like me for a daughter ? Is it because
mother died when I was a baby ? I couldn't help
it. I wish I had mother to-night. She would
never have spoken to me so, and have looked at me
so, when I have done nothing ! '
* It was only some tipsy nonsense of Aunt Ann's,'
said Patty. ' I was surprised at father taking notice
' Patty, you must tell me. About my behaviour,
father said ? Oh, what could any one say about me !
and — and — Alick is it, Patty ? I used to go about
with him — yes — I thought he was just like my
own brother '
'Aunt Ann said nothing about Alick. She
didn't mention his name. But I'm afraid, Nannie,
your own words show you have been very light.
It was Sir Vincent told us about you and Alick.'
And Patty looked at the girl searchingly.
' Sir Vincent ! ' Nannie grew scarlet of course ;
any ready blusher will understand that. But Patty
had never blushed in her life, and her sister's sudden
glow frightened her.
' Was there ever anything between Sir Vincent
and you, Nannie ? ' said the elder sister.
i84 MR. Bryant's mistake
' I don't know what you mean ! Between Sir
Vincent and me t Why, how could there be ? ' cried
There was a moment's silence, Patty feeling her-
self far too young and inexperienced to deal with a
case of this kind.
'Patty, I must know; you must tell me what
makes you say such things,' said Nannie, with forced
' My dear, I am very sorry if it vexes you, but
motherless girls like us have to be put on our
guard. And I do think father was so wrong to let
you come to this savage place, and with Aunt Ann
got into such shocking ways. And you never told
us. For shame, Nannie ; that wasn't like a proper-
' Oh, never mind about Aunt Ann now ! I want
to know what made you say — what made you think
such things about Sir Vincent.'
' Well, Nan, he spoke of you to us, and Caroline and
me did think he seemed a bit inclined to notice you,
whicli would be dreadfully improper of him, you know.'
' He never noticed me ! ' said Nannie of the flam-
ing cheeks, tossing her head.
' We spoke of it together,' continued Patty, ' but
not very much, for at that time we never fancied a
member of our family could be anything but conducted.
We forgot, my dear, how young you were, and always
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 185
a handful, Nannie ; and away among wild people —
we didn't know how wild and misbeha^inCT '
' You needn't go out of your way to abuse all my
friends ! ' cried Nannie ; ' I love them all dearly ! '
' Then Sir Yincent persuaded father to come here.
We wondered why '
' He wanted a good farmer to put on the land,'
interrupted the girl.
' There ! you see you have talked to him/ said
' It is all perfectly simple,' said Nannie. ' Why
should you suppose Sir Yincent had any extraordi-
nary motive ? '
' We didn't think so, till we heard Aunt Ann
go on about Sir Yincent and you.'
'About Sir Yincent and me? — me, Patty?
Patty, I am very fond of Aunt Ann. I know her
and love her, and she is Alick's mother, and has
been very kind to me ; but it doesn't do to believe
all she says, especially when she '
' Is drunk,' said Patty ; ' you seem quite used to
that. For shame, Nannie ! She wasn't actually drunk,
or we shouldn't have let her into the house, nasty
woman. And we didn't notice all she said, but it just
set us thinking ; and so now, you see, my dear, why we
are all anxious you should get married to Alick, as he
is willing to have you,' ended Patty, condescendingly.
' I'll never marry Alick just because folk have
i86 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
said what isn't true,' said Nannie, shaking all over
with wrath, 'None of that is true about Sir Vincent.
He has spoken to me sometimes. I suppose he'd
speak to you if he met you, wouldn't he ? '
' Oh, I'm different,' said Miss Eandle ; ' no man
alive could ever take liberties with me. And as to
you, Nannie, you aren't pretty enough for men to
notice you, without you make them. Caroline now
— it isn't her fault if they look at her sometimes.
It's a distress to her.'
' Patty,' said Nannie, abruptly, ' you have made
me so angry, so insulted like, that if I had any-
where to go, I'd leave the house and go right off
this very minute. And I'll do it, I will indeed, if
I'm spoken to this fashion again.' And the girl
pushed her half- frightened elder away, and only
waited till she was alone to burst into a storm of
frantic tears. Nannie blew out her candle and sat
by the open window, her bare elbows on the sill and
her chin resting on her hands, while she watched
the moon sailing over the heavens, making an island
of purple light in the gray sky and a long, shimmer-
ing, golden path across the sea. Sailmg down it she
could discern the black forms of the fishing-boats ;
and close at hand was the dark outline of the glen's
rugged sides, framing that vision of the moonlight
and the sea. Nannie gazed at it and thought — oh,
so wearily and anxiously ! How often good people
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 187
by well-meant interference strengthen the very ideas
they wish to destroy. Nannie had long thought of
Sir Vincent Leicester, but to-night her thoughts of
him took a new meaning. Then he had not looked
at her and spoken to her as he looked at and spoke
to Patty ? And she herself — no, she would never,
never, never be able to think of him as that cold
sister of hers contrived to do. ' Has she no eyes ? '
thought Nannie ; ' how can she help seeing he is
quite, quite different from John, or Alick, or any
one ? And how can one help liking best any one
who is the best, and the noblest, and the — the most
heautiful person,' said little Nannie, ' one has ever
seen ? I don't believe it is wrong. Oh, how I wish
I had been born a lady ! No one would have
thought it wrong then ! ' And she rose and paced
the room with a sense of being caged, like a wild
beast at a fair.
* Oh, what has Alick gone and spoiled everything
for ! ' she said to herself. ' I didn't know an offer was
a thing to make one so angry. I should have thought
it would feel nice ; and when it came from any one
I am fond of too, like Alick ! And I half promised
that some day I'd have him, and father wdshes it !
Oh dear ! I hope no one will ever make me an offer
again,' said the poor little virgin ; ' it is dreadful to
be made so angry ! ' The sense of being caged grew
too strong for Nannie. She hated the little strange
1 88 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
room and the house where people thought untrue
things of her. And the moon looked so bright over
the sea, and the air in the wild valley smelt so sweet.
There was a stair just outside her room which led
to the back door. It was open, as Nannie knew
by the fresh draught which blew in her face as she
peered down the darkened staircase. She slipped
(mt cautiously, silently, secretly, crying to herself —
L;he who had never cried in that manner before, and
had had no sorrows of her own worse than a dull
negative sort of occasional heartache, because she
had no mother and her father did not love her, and
life with her aunt was sometimes sordid and always
a little laborious. ' Shall I go home to her now ? '
she asked herself as she went out. 'Alick would
nemr let folk say untrue things of me. Oh dear !
I don't know if it is all quite untrue ! Perhaps it
is tliat, that which makes me angry with Alick and
makes me not want to be his wife.'
Vincent was beside her. Wandering about, his
dog at his heels, no longer elated, but glad to be back
at Everwell ; alarmed by the attraction the place and
its inhabitants — one inhabitant — had for him,
Vincent found himself suddenly and unexpectedly
in the presence of the very person of whom he was
thinking ; who was Everwell to him — the magnet.
He had seen her this evening in her lover's presence,
and had been as properly indifferent in his manner
ILL WEEDS CROW APACE 189
as even Alick could wish ; but he had gone home
with a great suspicion that, after all, his six months'
flight had not done much — had not eradicated the
poison from the arrow of Eros. And now here she
was before him ; and she was alone and in tears.
' Xannie ! ' exclaimed Vincent, and stopped quite
abruptly and unintentionally by her side, i^annie
started, and her tears ceased, as tears will at a
sudden change of thought. For a few minutes
they were both speechless, and they looked at each
other embarrassed, half guilty and wholly delighted,
as they had looked at each other once or twice
before. That sort of mute conversation a few times
repeated tells a great deal. After it there was
little matter what were the few trivial sentences
which they exchanged, each a little hurried and
panting, and feeling that it was best to say what-
ever came into their heads so as to take away any
significance from that impulsive greeting. But
somehow Xannie knew that he was trembling as
much as she ; and when he had gone on his way,
he looked back once and saw her still standing where
he had left her, her light figure conspicuous in the
Xannie did not cry again. She sat down on a
low moss -covered rock, smiling to herself as she
traced curious circles on the ground with her foot ;
thinking, not very intelligibly ; hardly thinking, only
190 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
feeling comforted and a little disappointed ; a little
frightened and a little guilty, but glad on the whole,
and qidte sure now that she couldn't and wouldn't
and shouldn't cast her admiration for the greatest
and noblest of the sons of men out of her aspiring
and foolish heart. You see, Nannie had read plays
in Miss Verrill's lumber-room, where she was a
privileged visitor ; and she knew how Viola loved the
duke and Helena wanted the count, which was all
one like loving a bright particular star. And she
had no mother to explain to her that that kind of
thing is all wrong in the nineteenth century. Patty
gave her the information far too roughly ; and
Nannie did not feel at all enamoured of pro-
priety as presented in the person of her staid and
excellent eldest sister. It were far preferable, she
thought, to resemble Viola. But at last Nannie saw
her brother John coming towards her, smart, and
vulgar, and as unromantic as Patty. And all her
bright dreams faded away, and she recognised that
she, with her red hair, could never be anything to
Sir Vincent, and that he didn't care a button for her
— not one button ; never had done so ; never, never
would do so. And she would be very silly indeed to
waste her affections on him ; and her family would
not think her ' conducted ' if they knew, and Alick
would break his heart. Would it, I wonder, have
distressed John Eandle to understand the effect his
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 191
dapper appearance and smug expression produced on
the innocent heart of his little sister ?
She fled back to her own room before he had
See Sir Vincent Leicester's dogcart spinning across
the moor between Tanswick and Everwell ; and Mr.
Bryant, who has not yet had time to provide his
wife with her pony-carriage, driving, with a keen
sense of delight in the fast-trotting chestnut mare
and his own impromptu skill in handling the reins.
He feels a different man from the mere hard-work-
ing London parson in the shabby coat and up to his
eyes in business. Here he is half a country gentle-
man. Everwell is not populous, and he will inevit-
ably have leisure ; and Mr. Bryant has never
consorted with people of leisure. It has come to
be synonymous for him with birth, breeding, station,
society, honour — matters which till now he has
only been admonished of far off.
There is a remarkably handsome young lady by
his side, and Mr. Bryant is more delighted and
surprised by her than by his own skill in driving
and his own opening leisure. How his heart beats
when she says caressingly and with genuine satis-
192 MR. Bryant's mistake
faction, ' Eeally, papa, I had no idea you knew so
much about driving. Where did you learn it ?
And how nice you look with that beard ! I had
quite forgotten what you were like.'
Ah, she was a beautiful creature ! The father
surveyed her and no longer saw the smallest in-
congruity in Sir Vincent's proposals. She was a
thousand times prettier than ever her uninteresting
mother had been ; handsomer than Emma in her
fairest days. Poor, dear Emma ! Mr. Bryant felt
with an uneasy qualm, that the stepmother would
seem plain and homely to this splendid girl.
About a mile from the vicarage, when they were
close to the Heights, Lady Katharine and her son
came towards them taking a stroll. Now there was
nothing in the whole day so enjoyable to the widow
as that walk or drive with her son, and Vincent
seldom failed to present himself for it. Lady
Katharine at these times was always in her happiest
mood, beaming upon the whole world. And so she
smiled now upon Mr. Bryant and Georgina — dear !
what a beautiful girl ! — so warmly, that the clergy-
man instinctively checked the mare ; and then the
pedestrians stopped too, and he sprang down from
the cart to converse with them, and Georgina was
left enthroned above and alone. The young people
both became scarlet at sight of each other, for both
remembered very decided faithlessness to the affec-
ILL WEEDS GROW A PA CE 1 93
tion they had entertained at parting, and which
they proposed now promptly to renew. And the
two parents, seeing the blushes, sought each other's
eye, and in a moment understood everything per-
fectly, and even exchanged an involuntary smile.
Lady Katharine, caught in a benevolent mood, had
committed herself irrevocably to Georgina's cause.
As to Vincent, he shook hands with Georgina and
introduced her to his mother with an air of pride,
evidently no longer caring to conceal his admiration.
For no one could see her, so he argued, without
admitting that he had selected precisely the most
admirable and suitable wife in the kingdom ; and he
only wished they were already engaged. Surely if
they were, his erring fancy would keep to its true
No one at the moment had the faintest recollec-
tion of the homely stepmother except Mr. Bryant
himself, and he hoped 'it was no matter.' Georgina's
figure, style, and manner more than made up for
any deficiencies in the dear woman.
But now something occurred, very disturbing to
one member of this happy family party. Georgina,
queen-like, leaning out of the dogcart with her hand
patronisingly on her father's shoulder, while she
talked familiarly, almost amorously, with Sir
Vincent, saw another pair of people approaching ;
evidently another mother and son, for the stout
VOL. I 13
194 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
middle-aged woman was leaning on tlie very re-
spectable young man, who carried her bundle and
basket, and was talking to her as he led her
' What a delightfully funny couple, Vincent ! '
said Miss Bryant, and the Christian name was noted
by the listening parents ; ' I am certain that is your
protege, the painter.'
' Alick Eandle,' admitted Vincent, and the whole
party directed their looks to the newcomers. Mr.
Bryant, who till now had believed Alick's name to
be Leach, felt his heart suddenly stop beating as
he heard the word Eandle and saw the woman — the
very woman ! And Vincent was saying carelessly,
' That is his mother whom I told you of. She takes a
drop too much now and then, and is rather a thorn in
Alick's side. Ah, she is aiming at you, Mr. Bryant.
She was inclined to claim acquaintance with you
rather.' It is not too much to assert that Mr. Bryant
felt a strong wish for an earthquake at this moment ;
but being a man of self-control and presence of
mind, he merely answered calmly and pleasantly —
' Some old friend of mine ? From my parish
in London, can it be ? Good evening, Alick. I
hear your mother thinks she remembers me.
Where have we met, my good friend ? I shall be
delighted to renew our acquaintance.'
It was a most extraordinary position he was
ILL WEEDS GRO IV APACE 195
in, and would have been disconcerting to a man of
firmer fibre. On the one side was his brilliant
daughter, with her Paris hat and intimacy with the
peerage, all but engaged too to the young baronet,
who seemed to Mr. Bryant a greater prince than he
really was ; on the other, the fat, common woman,
who took a drop too much sometimes, and was not
only a near relation, but had helped him to do
away with Mary Smith. That was the transaction
which started up involuntarily before his mind at
sight of the w^oman, for he had had no dealings with
her on any other occasion. And that was the one
action of his life which he felt to be for ever un-
pardonable. Mr. Bryant expected to find himself
lying in a moment. It really would be impossible
to own that woman. Further than the lie he did
not see. But Ann had plenty of mother- wit about
her of an inverted description ; she saw that Mr.
Bryant was not for recognition, and lying, as we
know, presented no difficulty to her.
' It ain't the same,' she said, addressing Alick ;
' my Bryant had yellow hair and a snubbed nose.'
Georgina tittered, and Mr. Bryant took courage.
'Where did you see him, my friend?' he said.
' Did you say he was a relative V
Alick frowned now, expecting the dubious
brother-in-law to be brought up, and Mr. Bryant
trembled, but he felt it absolutely necessary to know
196 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
what the woman had said. Mrs. Leach understood
' I didn't. Did I, sir ? I never made so bold.
I said, " Sir Vincent," said I, " I once sat under a man
named Bryant with a snubbed nose. He went to
London, but I suppose London is a big town, and if
there's one parson in it named Bryant there is two
dozen." I didn't say another word, Sir Vincent and
Alick ; now did I ?'
' Not even so much, Mrs. Leach,' said Vincent ;
' you didn't mention the snubbed nose.' And the
incident ended. Alick dragged his mother on, and
Mr. Bryant breathed more freely. He joined in
the young people's laugh ; but without the most
distant feeling of amusement.
Oh, how my poor Emma had thought of Georgina,
who was coming home to be her daughter !
She was so long choosing a room for the girl
that the housemaid got quite impatient ; she took
the curtains in hand herself — gaudy chintz with large
pink roses over it ; the new wall-paper having great
roses too, so nearly the same colour that Emma
and the housemaid considered them 'a lovely match.'
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 197
' I declare, it looks quite a bower ! ' said Mrs. Bry-
ant, admiringly. The cherished daughter must have,
too, her own little table made of Christmas cards, and
a scrap-screen also made by herself for a bazaar and
unsold. The scraps were mounted on Turkey-red,
and the Christmas cards were finished off with a
royal blue fringe, neither of which looked particularly
well beside the rosy curtains ; but Mrs. Bryant did
not think of that, and only saw the ' lovely pictures.'
For the walls, there w^ere a few chromo-lithographs
in gilt frames purloined also from her own bedroom ;
and finally she exclaimed, ' I think I will give her
my bird, Jane ! ' with the delight of sudden inspira-
tion. The white cat followed the rival pet into the
new, smart room. He had been greatly put out
by the move from London, and had roamed discon-
solately about the house, finding no place sufficiently
comfortable for him, till he observed the eider-down
on Georgina's bed. Even Mr. Bryant had long
given up contending with that cat, w^ho was of
opinion that the establishment belonged to him, and
that he condescendingly kept five or six persons to
pet him. Neither Jane nor Mrs. Bryant attempted
to oust him now from his new position, nor dreamed
that any one could be unflattered by his favour,
xlnd then Mrs. Bryant went away to dress for receiv-
ing her stepdaughter.
She had pulled down her scanty hair, and
198 MR. BR Y ant's MISTAKE
enveloped herself in an old white dressing-jacket,
when a loud noise and a cry from Georgina's room
brought her running thither in dismay. Jane had
been piling up the fire to the great furnace a servant
naturally makes on a June day, when — this was her
account — she saw a great nasty 'hear wig' running over
the ceiling ; so she up with the broom 'andle laying
there 'andy and struck a great blow at the intruder,
which fell upon Jack's white 'ead, making him
swear ' horfuL' Alas ! rather more fell than the
earwig : down came a great piece of the plaster,
falling on the new curtains and the white sheets
and the red eider-down, and powdering over the
bright new carpet and the table of Christmas cards.
Jane, too, in her terror, knocked over the iusj, and
its contents were losing themselves in all directions
over the uneven floor. The room was a scene of
dire confusion, over which Jerry, the thrush, sang
' Jane ! ' exclaimed Mrs. Bryant, ' I do think you
are the most aggravating girl I ever saw ! '
This conspicuous failure was unbearable.
Georgina would think she had taken no pains, and
the little table was quite destroyed. Mrs. Bryant
began to cry, and Jane went into a passion ; said she
didn't care a rap for all the Miss Georginas in the
world, and would leave the house and get a mistress
who was civil.
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 1 99
' Jane, Jane/ cried Emma, in an agony, ' she'll
be here in a minute ! Get a dust-pan and clear
' Clear it up yourself, ma'am,' said Jane. ' I
don't wish to aggravate you no further ; ' and she
flounced out of the room, after giving another need-
less poke to the unnecessary fire.
' Cook, cook,' called Mrs. Bryant, ' do come and
help me ! ' But the cook was in the garden gather-
ing parsley, and Jane, without relenting, sat down
to make herself some tea. Poor Emma, her eyes
streaming with tears and her brow with heat, set to
work herself; but she had not half done when the
dogcart drove up to the door, and Georgina and her
father got down and came in.
' Welcome, my dearest child, welcome,' said Mr.
Bryant, and kissed her ; ' we are not quite straight
yet, you see.'
' I do see,' said Georgina, looking round with
some contempt, not lost upon her father. Where
was Mrs. Bryant ?
' Emma, Emma, my love ! ' he called. ' Here we
are ! Georgie has come.' He was a little put out.
That incident en route had tried him very much.
' Where is your mistress, Jane ? '
' Dunno, I'm sure, sir,' said Jane, with a toss of
' I begin to think Mrs. Bryant is dead, papa,'
200 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
said Georgina, flippantly. ' You haven't said a word
about her, and now she has vanished.'
' Emma/ shouted Mr. Bryant again, ' come down
She dared not disobey ; besides, she was longing
to see her dear daughter. Her hands white with
the fallen plaster, her face red and tear-stained, her
grizzled hair hanging, and her old morning -dress
half hidden by the cotton jacket, the poor, self-
forgetful, eager, tired woman presented herself
before the fashionable Georgina. She certainly
was a strange figure. Georgina stared at her for a
moment, then burst into a fit of hearty laughter.
So lately had Mr. Bryant disowned his sister-in-
law, that disowning seemed natural ; before his fine
daughter he would at that moment have disowned
his humble wife if he could. Yet he stepped for-
ward as usual, the dear woman's protector. She
had fled before the girl's contemptuous laugh, and
he went after her, kindly, sympathetically, consol-
ingly. After a time he rejoined his daughter, and
explaining to her the disaster in her room, took the
opportunity to deliver what he meant for a very
severe little sermon.
'My dearest child,' he said, 'you know, at least
I hope you know, that we are very plain people,
and have not had your advantages of education and
society. You will have to put up with us as we
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 201
are, and T must insist upon it that you do not fail
in the respect due to your father and his wife.'
Georgina made a little grimace. Then she put
her hands on his arm, and looked up in his face
archly, and turned him round, so that together they
faced the mirror. ' I don't think we are plain
people at all, papa, you and I,' she said, caressingly.
However, she apologised in a kind of way, and was
very prettily behaved when at last she kissed her
stepmother properly, and consented to follow her to
the apartment so anxiously prepared and now some-
what shorn of its splendours.
But she w^as not at all so pretty to Mrs. Bryant
when out of her father's sight.
' Dear, what a hot room ! ' she exclaimed, truly
enough, for the fire was the one really successful
and triumphant thing ; ' and what a noisy bird !
He makes my head split.'
Then the girl surveyed the room, and noticed all
the pink roses and the gaudy carpet. Mrs. Bryant
thought with keen ex]3ectation that now she was
going to express admiration. IS'ot one word. Geor-
gina shrugged her shoulders.
' What is that on my bed ? ' she exclaimed ; ' a
cat ? Oh, take it away ! There is no creature 1
dislike so much as a cat.' •
' I am so sorry, my love,' said Mrs. Bryant, lift-
ing Jack with great tenderness. 'Your pa is so
202 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
fond of the cat, he lets him lay anywhere, and we
take no notice. He's a very good, pleasant cat and
never has a flea, nor looks at the bird, nor anything.'
And setting him down on the floor, she opened the
door for him to make a graceful exit. Naturally
Mr. Jack made for the soft eider-down again.
Georgina snatched up a towel and struck the animal
a smart blow, whereupon he would have scratched
her if Mrs. Bryant had not courageously interposed.
' I feel quite agitated,' said Georgina, sinking into
an arm-chair; ' and the heat of this stuffy room makes
me faint. You will have to get rid of that cat,' said
the stepdaughter ; ' Finette will not endure it.'
' "What is Finette, my love ? '
' My dog, of course.'
' Have you brought a dog, Georgie dear ? I
hope it is clean and doesn't bark much. Your pa
is not very partial to dogs.'
'I suppose you mean you are not,' said the out-
spoken Georgina, with the laugh which enchanted
her lovers, but which was disconcerting to a timid
woman like Emma.
' But is the dog coming in the luggage, love ? '
' My maid is bringing her. Where is my maid's
room ? '
' Oh my, Georgie ! ' exclaimed Mrs. Bryant, ' you
haven't been and brought a maid surely ! We can't
have a maid. There is no place for her to sleep, and
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 203
tliey do quarrel with the other servants so. Jane is
very easy upset as it is.'
' Eeally ? And is Jane a fixture ? Of course I
must have a maid. I can't do my hair myself.
I'll run down and speak to papa about it.'
' Oh no, my love, please don't do that. I will
manage it somehow, if you must have her. But
would it do if I waited on you myself ? I'll unpin
your hair for you now, if you will let me.'
' No, thank you,' said Georgma, in a tone of dis-
gust, and glancing at her stepmother's tasteless cap
and crrizzled chic^non.
' It will be very hard to feel respect for that
woman,' thought Georgina. ' Dear me ! how ever
did my handsome, delightful papa come to marry
such a woman as that ? "Who is my papa ? There
is a pleasing vagueness about his early history. I
had better talk of my mother's relations as much as
I can. I declare that woman is enough to turn
Vincent against me. How on earth am I to get rid
For the present there was truce. The maid was
accommodated with the spare room (until after a
few days she was dismissed by Mr. Bryant for
insolence to his wife), Jack was turned into the
stable lest he should frighten Finette, and Georgina,
dressed in satin, came down to dinner with Mr. and
]\Irs. Bryant, who were in their morning clothes, and
204 MR. Bryant's mistake
indeed were going to church. The arrangement
suited Miss Bryant, who felt pretty sure her lover
would look in, and who wanted to give him her
opinion of her stepmother. Meanwhile she behaved
very nicely to that lady, and flirted most persever-
ingly and successfully with her papa.
But that laugh of Georgina's upon entering had
left its effect. Mrs. Bryant indeed, humble, un-
dignified, and prompt to forgive, partially forgot it ;
her husband, never. He had defended his wife and
reproved the girl ; but for all that, victory lay with
Georgina. Mr. Bryant did not in his heart forgive
Emma's blundering welcome ; he did forgive Georgina
her laugh. Undoubtedly, she was superior in a
hundred ways to poor, dear Emma. She was a
magnificent creature. How good of her to be so
pleasant to her dull, old, parsonical parents ! And
what credit would accrue to the new vicar of Ever-
well for being the father of the loveliest girl in the
county ! Alas for Mr. Bryant ! Yesterday the
good of his parishioners had been his chief desire.
His head was full of sermons, and lectures, and
temperance meetings, and sacraments ; and how
even Sir Vincent was showing signs of grace, and
Alick Leach was a saint from whom he might learn
himself Georgina with her French fashions had
sown a whole crop of new and worldly ideas.
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 205
Vincent had turned in at the vicarage almost every
evening since the arrival of the new clergyman.
Going thither was virtuous, for it prevented his
loitering about in the glen where he had found
sweet Nannie in tears ; it was pleasant also, for
going and coming he had to cross the said glen, and
always with an undefined hope that she might be
at the crossing. Lady Katharine was amused to find
her son required a little urging to go to the vicarage
to-night. However, he went. It was the right
thing to do, for did he not intend to marry Georgina ?
He did, and for two reasons : first, he had arranged
with himself to do so, and Vincent had a strong
will; secondly, he regarded Georgina as a bulwark
of defence against Nannie. For reason told him
that nothing could be more desirable and nothing
more probable than that the fashionable lady should
in every way eclipse the country maid ; in Georgina's
society Nannie would be forgotten. Vincent was
desperately alarmed about himself at present, like
a man convinced that he has a mortal disease.
One only specific for his complaint presented itself,
and he clutched at it greedily. It was Georgina.
He was ready to marry her to-morrow if she could
2o6 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
cure him of this mad passion for which change of
air had effected nothing whatever.
Georgina beckoned him to a seat at her side,
and she lounged in a low chair, displaying a pretty
foot, and pulling Finette's ears, with a languishing
air of ' Come woo me ! come woo me ! ' while all the
time she was studying her suitor closely, and coming
to a few conclusions about him, not altogether remote
from the truth. For though presuming, Georgina
was clever; and she soon perceived that Vincent had
changed. He had come this evening not to make love
but to criticise ; he was entertained perhaps, but his
pulse was unfluttered, his heart was at leisure. He
would need a little persistent courting, she suspected,
before she got him up to the mark. Well, no matter ;
it was only a matter of time, for Georgina knew
herself an adept at the art of courtship. For
to-night — she was not especially successful. Vincent
recognised the fact witli a sigh ; yet gladly too. He
had been jealous for Nannie !
' Tell me,' said Georgina, ' what made you bring
papa here ? '
' I wanted a good parson,' said Vincent ; not at
all what she had meant him to say.
'Fancy you caring about parsons!' cried Georgina,
clapping her hands.
' Why not ? These people here seemed in want
of some theology, or whatever it is.'
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 207
' I haven't oone in for it. And I don't believe
you have either, sir.'
' Oh, I suppose one acquires some sort of practical
theology unconsciously, enough to keep one going ;
some sense of higher powers to be reverenced, and
of a standard of decency. I should hope your
father would hammer that much into the heads of
the people here, for I begin to think, without it
men are only a rather uninteresting sort of brute.'
' You remind me of Lord Cookham,' said Georgina.
* I suppose one turns that sort of thing over in
one's mind now and then,' he said. ' I imagine
definite ideas on those points pertain in some way
to one's gentility.'
' Gentility. What a w^ord ! It would do for
Mrs. Bryant.' Georgina was silent for a moment.
She was anxious to inform her lover that she
disapproved of her stepmother ; it was obvious that
he must do so. ' I feel like a little girl in papa's
Sunday school ! ' cried Georgina. ' Please, teacher,
what do you mean by gentility ? ' Vincent was not
going to be accused a second time of resembling
Lord Cookham, and held his peace.
' I was hoping,' said Georgina, sarcastically,
' that you would favour me with some charitable
definition, wide enough to embrace even my step-
mother.' And she laus^hed. Vincent was silent.
2o8 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
and did not think the remark in the best taste.
It was the second little jar.
' You are not amusing/ said Georgina with a
graceful yawn. 'You stayed away from church to
come to see me, but I didn't stay away to be preached
at by you. Tell me something more interesting.'
' What shall I tell you ? ' said Vincent, stupidly ;
and she stamped her foot with vexation.
' Oh, more about yourself, sir ; or your home,
or your friends. By the way, who was that very
pretty girl who ran out of the glen and kissed the
great fat woman after she had tried to claim papa's
acquaintance ? ' Vincent felt annoyed all over, and
no longer in the least inclined to talk to Georgina.
' I shouldn't have thought you near enough to
know if she were pretty or ugly,' he said, evasively.
Georgina laughed. She knew a discussion of female
beauty was an useful topic with an admirer.
' I saw she was pretty chiefly by the expression in
your eyes, my friend, as you watched her. Perhaps
you don't know what a tell-tale countenance you have?'
' Miss Bryant ' began Vincent, strongly
tempted to say something rude.
That unlucky allusion to Nannie destroyed the
work of Georgina's whole evening. It irritated him
out of all sense of his companion's attractions. He
was like a person with a raw place, a touch to which
sets every nerve quivering.
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 209
The church was very empty, and Mr. Bryant cut
his discourse short, but made it very plain and
pointed, as he well knew how. Approbation was
written on every line of Alick's eager, sharp-featured
face. He seemed stationed there to keep the preacher
up to the mark ; and it was well, or Mr. Bryant's
thoughts would certainly have wandered ; for there
was that terrible woman, Ann, sitting before him
with a curious delighted expression, and every now
and then a glance at the unconscious Emma, w^hich
sent a cold shudder down Mr. Bryant's back. "When
he had pronounced the blessing, he stepped, still in
his surplice, to his wife's side, and bade her go home
at once in charge of the sexton. Then he whispered
to Mrs. Leach that he would follow her to her house
and speak to her now, if she could give him ten
minutes in private. Ann agreed, and winked at him
with a delightful sense of intrigue. Then he talked
pleasantly for a few minutes to Alick, who was
going to hold a prayer meeting and who had a girl
with him, one of his sisters probably, to wdiom Mr.
Bryant paid no attention whatever.
' Where was the great congregation you promised
me, Alick ? ' said the clergyman, in his genial way.
VOL. I 14
210 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
' Folk who've been toiling won't walk two and
a half miles of an evening, sir, without there's an
awful sense of starvation. That hasn't come to a
many of them yet. But if you would join us on
the beach, sir '
' On the beach ? What ! do you meet there in
the rain ? '
' It do seem a damping sort of thing on prayers,
sir,' said Alick, regretfully.
' Take your flock into the new schoolhouse,' said
Mr. Bryant ; ' don't wait for me, but I may perhaps
look in presently.'
' We have been praying for a good minister, sir,'
said Alick, ' and I'm thinking our prayers have been
' God grant it may prove so, my man,' said Mr.
Bryant, with fervour, for somehow he w^as not
feeling a particularly good minister to-night.
At last the coast was clear, and Mr. Bryant
made his despondent way to Mrs. Leach.
What was he going to say ? He really did not
know. He wa^ going to see how the land lay, and
to come to some understanding with her. If she
had only turned up a day or tw^o sooner, before
Georgina had appeared on the scene ; if he had not
met her for the first time in public ; if she were not
that devout man Alick's mother ; if he and she
had not that ignoble secret between them about
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 211
Mary Smith ■ Good heavens, was it possible
that that early, long dead and buried and forgotten
trouble was going to make its presence felt again ?
And just now when such fair winds were filling his
sails, and he had believed himself embarked on so
prosperous a voyage ! It was horrible to think of
' And how is my poor dear Emma ? ' asked Mrs.
Leach. ' I see she has fallen into flesh since I saw
her, and is a good full of a doorway like myself
' Look here now,' said the clergyman, abruptly,
' how do you come to be here ? '
' It's course of nature,' replied Ann, rubbing her
hands with appreciation of the joke, ' seeing I was
bred here and wed here, and have put two husbands
into the tombs here. How do you come to be
here, that's the thing ? '
Mr. Bryant thought it decent to ask for the
good folk at Faverton Farm, and Ann was voluble
about them; but, true to her character of secret
woman, she refrained from mentioning that they
had left their native place.
'We have, partly by accident, cut all connec-
tion with the farm,' said Mr. Bryant. ' Our walks in
life are different, and I cannot endure harrowing
memories for my dear wife.' After a while, he
ventured to ask if Ann was going to bring ' this
matter forward.' She replied that she was a very
truthful woman, and didn't see her way to conceahng
212 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
it. Mr. Bryant hesitated, and then she said im-
' I'm a poor struggling widow, Mr. Bryant, with
my family to think of and a dreadful delicate son, —
my poor Alick, sir, who has always one head in
the grave ; and the others are young and brought
up too respectable for hard work. I have a deal of
' Oh well, perhaps I can help you,' said Mr.
Bryant ; ' I shall be very glad to do so. But listen
now.' Mrs. Leach sat down just in front of him,
spread her hands on her knees, and looked up in
his face with an air of profound attention. She
was in every way disgusting to Mr. Bryant. He
tried to explain what a great man he was — an
awkward sort of thing to say ; and about his lady
daughter, who had mixed in the highest society, and
was on the eve of contracting a brilliant marriage.
' Ay, marrying is good,' said Ann ; ' I always tell
the lasses so. I wouldn't like to hinder the pre.tty
dear ! '
* And what is of more importance, Ann — here I
do expect you to understand my meaning — is my
dear, ill-treated wife's unfortunate early history. I
am not exaggerating when I say that in our position,
if it became known, it would ruin her. That is why
I have thought it advisable to sever all connection
with Emma's relations.'
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 213
' And there was the child too/ said Mrs. Leach
' Good gracious, yes ! Do you suppose I have
forgotten it ? ' said the tortured man, rising and walk-
ing about, feeling sick with regret and worry.
' Ann,' he said seriously, ' could anything induce
you to leave Everwell ? '
' To go where, sir ? ' asked Mrs. Leach eagerly.
'Wherever you please. To London, Cornwall,
New Zealand. I would arrange it all for you.'
' And pay my way ? '
*Yes, I w^ould. Under certain conditions.'
' You might give me the money,' suggested Ann ;
' it's a mighty convenient thing, especially when it
ain't mentioned to Alick, who always steals it for
missionaries. And you could stay here and I could
stay here, and we'd never say a word of having seen
each other afore. I'm a great girl for keeping
secrets. Have I ever told one of your secrets,
even without a consideration for keeping them ? '
' I'm sure I hope you have not,' said Mr. Bryant.
' No, Ann, that sort of plot is not to be thought of.
It is odious, unworthy, dangerous. No, no. Emigra-
tion is best — quite the best thing for you , and all
' No, sir,' said Ann, ' I couldn't do. nowhere away
from Everwell. Law now, you don't understand it ;
why, if I was cast adrift without my Alick and the
214 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
girl he's meaning to get married to, I shouldn't
wonder if I got a liking for a taste of drink some-
times. I shouldn't indeed.'
'My good woman/ said Mr. Bryant, eagerly,
' you would be far better off in some other place.
Emigration is the great remedy for poverty, and for
all the temptations which poverty brings. Think it
over. Don't be alarmed by difficulties. I have helped
scores of people to emigrate, and my assistance to
you of course would be material. Think it over.'
He did not despair of persuading her to go. At
any rate he refused consent to her suggestion ; that is
as to putting it into practice for a permanence. He did
buy her silence for a few days by a present to-night.
It was a most detestable situation for a clergy-
man and a gentleman. But surely it was necessary ?
If she were allowed to talk, she would most certainly
tell all : that Emma, at whom Georgina and others
already looked askance, was sister-in-law to this
vulgar, greasy, ignorant tippler ; that he himself was
the son of a grocer ; that Emma was the mother
of a nameless child ; and that he and the greasy
tippler between them had palmed the baby off on
somebody else. The last fact he could not bear to
confess even to himself To know that he was
living in the same place with a person who knew of
it was unendurable.
Ann must go ; and till she went, to buy her
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 215
silence was mere matter of necessity. He had no
The interview, so terribly agitating to Mr.
Bryant, had only lasted twenty minutes, and when
he left the house, which was nearly opposite the new
schoolhouse, Alick had not long collected his flock
from the beach and the street, and begun his
meeting. As he had entered the temple he had
happened to look in at his mother's window, and had
seen, to his no small surprise, that the clergyman
was there : a fact which set him thinking.
Whex Mr. Bryant came out he ran up against Sir
Vincent, and started as if caught in some wrong
action. It was some minutes before he convinced
himself that his young friend saw nothing strange
in his presence in the street at this hour. Anxious
to seem on duty bent, he proposed that they should
both slip unseen into the schoolhouse through the
classroom, and learn for themselves how and what
Alick taught the people. Vincent was rather
curious on the subject himself, and agreed. The
clergyman wanted time to collect his thoughts, to
consider what he had done and what he was going
to do. He had no intention of listening to the
2i6 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
preaching, especially from the lips of the son of his
enemy. Yet after a few minutes he did listen, and
so did Vincent. As I have said before, no one found
it easy to be ten minutes in Alick's presence without
watching and hearing him.
There were about thirty persons assembled ; two
or three fishermen and one lad recovering from
an accident, and unable to take his place in
the boats. He, by the way, attributed his cure
vociferously to Alick Eandle's prayer. The rest
were chiefly women, fairly well-to-do, from the most
respectable shopkeeping people of the place. Dr.
Verrill also was present with his pipe of home-
grown tobacco. Alick was addressing this little
company, all of whom were listening with keen
attention, and occasionally joining in.
' Sir,' said Alick, addressing the doctor, ' I'm a
specimen of those folk. They are my brothers and
sisters. Life for a working man is a constant
struggle not to slip down among them. Some of us
does it every day.'
' Ay, ay,' grumbled one old man, ' according to
you we are all going straight to the devil. You want
to start the world afresh, you do.' Alick caught at
' There's only one way of starting the world
afresh : by bringing it back to God. We all
want it, rich and poor alike, clean and unclean.
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 217
Two men 11 never be brothers till they are
both sons of God.' Vincent glanced at his
companion, who smiled and nodded, but had not
begun to listen yet. So far Alick's countenance and
voice were more impressive than what he said. Still
every one wanted to hear him out. 'Do you know
wdiat Christ said to the rich man ?' continued the
speaker, evidently feeling himself addressing the
wealthy part of the community, though unaw^are of
his two gentleman hearers ; ' the command's plain
enough, and if we don't do it, it's because w^e have
no feeling for Christ. " Sell all that thou hast and
give to the poor, and come and follow me.'"
' I ain't a-going to do that ! ' called out the miserly
old lady who kept the bakery. Alick fixed his melan-
choly eyes on her as he continued vehemently —
' I tell you, you have no feeling for Christ ; no
sense of sin, no hatred of the world, the flesh, and
the devil. You are a willing slave. That kind
goeth not forth but by prayer and fasting. Oh,' he
cried, joining his hands and raising them stiffly
above his head, ' you may be safe for this world with
your education and your civil w^ays and your natural
goodness, but it's a broken staff to lean upon even
here; but there, tlurc — if you have no better stay,
you will be cast out eternally and will fall headlong
into utter destruction.' A cry from the old baker
woman was quite sufficiently startling. There was
2 1 S MR. BR YANT S MISTAKE
a pause, during which Alick stood with his hands
crossed on his chest, and his eyes blazing as they
gazed upward. ' May God in His mercy enlighten
you,' he cried at length. ' Look here, friends ;
two years ago I was walking straight down into
the pit, and then there came a day when God
spoke to me as He spoke to Adam, coming to him
in the cool of the evening and saying, " Man, where
are thou ? What doest thou here ? " He says
it to me again to-night. He says it now. Here.
To every one in this house, which we have built for
His presence. Where He is present. Man, what
doest thou here ? Man, what doest thou here ? How
many of us have an answer ready for that question ?
. . .' Presently he resumed : ' Three days I lay
under conviction, crying to Him for mercy. I was
heartsick. I had visions of hell and of Satan, and of
the darkness and the horror outside of God's presence.
Then the day dawned, and the day-star arose in my
heart. Oh the bliss and the light and the glory
of that dawn 1 It showed me heaven ; and since
then my heart has been sick still, but with desire
for the King in His beauty, — for the land that is
very far off. Some others of you have felt it. I
would have you all feel it. My God, I would have
you all feel it. My God, my God, it cuts me
through the heart to think there is one in this
room, burdened and sin stained, with wings that
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 219
cannot fly and a soul that cannot rise ; tempted,
assailed, vanquished by the Evil One, because he
will not turn to Thee for strength, and wisdom, and
sevenfold might. That any day, to-morrow it may
be, to-night — oh my God, to-night ! he may die and
sink into a grave eternal and without a hope ; —
when he might have risen with Christ to sit at Thy
right hand in the heavenly places ; where there is
light for evermore, and lo ! a great multitude which
no man can number; of all nations and kindred,
and people and tongues ; which stand before the
throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes
and palms in their hands.'
The words dropped from Alick with the cadence
of loftiest melody. His singular voice and the
judgment in his punctuation and emphasis gave at
once the full sense and the full music of which the
words were capable, and stirred with strange and
unwonted sympathy the hearts of his hearers. He
went on, losing his argument in the fascination of
the triumphant poetry ; " They shall hunger no more,
neither thirst any more ; neither shall the sun
light on them, nor any heat. And the gates shall
not be shut at all by day : for there shall be no
night there; and they need no candle, neither
light of the sun ; for the Lord God giveth them
lisjht ! And his servants shall serve him !" said
Alick, with the agonising cry of one who is trying
220 MR, BRYANT S MISTAKE
to serve and making frequent failure ; ' " and tliey
shall see his face ; and his name shall be in their
foreheads." But ' there was a long pause of
shuddering expectation — 'hid — "there shall in nowise
enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatso-
ever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie. And
the time is at hand," ' cried the preacher in a slow
distinct tone of horror, ' when " he that is unjust,
shall be unjust still : and he that is filthy, shall be
filthy STILL : and he that is holy shall be holy still.
And, behold. He cometh quickly ; and His reward is
with Him to give unto every man according as his
work shall be."'
The thrilling voice ceased, and for a time there
was silence, every eye fixed upon Alick with a
breathless expectation and resignation to the spell
he had woven round their spirits. It was the
genius of the actor, not the genius of the divine ;
but who would perceive that at such a moment ?
Alick himself would never perceive it. He still
stood with his arms crossed and his eyes raised to
heaven, and burning with what seemed celestial fire.
He moved a little and altered the direction of his
gaze to his hearers, through whom passed a per-
And presently, as if the silence and the relentless
pressure on their souls had become unbearable, one
of the occupants of the benches, the maimed young
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 221
fisherman aforementioned, fell on his knees and
burst into a low-toned ejaculatory confession of his
sins, and supplication for admittance into that
mystic city which Alick, the prophet, saw ; and a
sob ran through the women, as all heads were bent,
and fervent Amens added weight to the petition of
the spokesman. After which there was more pray-
ing from various people, and other demonstrations
which made Vincent at any rate uncomfortable.
For the physical excitement, which was not without
its picturesqueness in Alick Handle's artist nature,
became grotesque in Samuel Dykes and his other
followers. Probably Nannie thought so too.
Vincent had discovered her in the throng watching
her cousin uneasily, and obviously feeling herself
•responsible for him, the colour coming and going in
her cheek, and her spirit evidently not joining in
the excited supplications.
Alick terminated the proceedings at last with
some abruptness, as if unable to bear the agitation
longer ; and a general sigh, perhaps of relief, perhaps
of disappointment, at the conclusion of the meeting,
rose from the bent heads. After a short silence,
Mr. Bryant, who, whatever his secret emotions,
invariably preserved his cheerful and dignified
demeanour, stepped from his concealment, shook
hands with the retiring company, and dismissed
them, for the most part in tears ; while Alick sat
222 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
shivering in a chair trying to recover himself after
so much nervous exhaustion, and no longer attending
But a rough young woman now made her ap-
pearance from the street, with bare arms akimbo,
and a coarse face pale with fatigue and anxiety.
'Alick Handle, yo are wanted, man,' she said,
pushing forward to the almost prostrated missionary,
while the retiring crowd paused to watch this new
manifestation ; ' mother's down with the faver, and
shey waunt bey contant withoat yo com now and
spake to God with her, for the doctor has given her
oop and shey's mortal afraid to die, and it's only
God Almighty can save her now.'
Alick promised, and Mr. Bryant again waved his
hand, and induced the people to go. But the poor
prophet still crouched quivering in his chair, clutch-
ing its arms convulsively, while his dull eyes gazed
vacantly before him. Nannie had crossed the room,
and now stood beside her cousin, smiling at him,
and rubbing his cold trembling hands.
Then Dr. Verrill was seen to advance to the
lamp, and take two little phials and a graduated
glass from his pocket. He carefully poured out a
mixture, shook the glass several times, tasted the
contents, and advanced on tiptoe behind Alick, mak-
ing a sign to Nannie not to speak. When he had
got very close, he paused for a moment with his
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 223
head on one side, listening to the gasping breath.
Then very suddenly, and with a loud and alarming
snort, he poured the preparation down the back of
the prophet's neck, and went away without await-
ing the result.
Alick sat up instantly with apparent restoration
of his strength, and much evident annoyance. But
Nannie's sunny smile beamed forth, and involun-
tarily she glanced at the astounded Sir Vincent, and
meeting his eye they both went into the heartiest
fit of laughter, no doubt a relief after the tension
and solemnity of the last hour.
No one could have suspected Mr. Bryant of any
oppression to his spirits. But upon entering the
house he obeyed the Scriptural injunction ; he went
into his chamber and shut to the door with the
publican's petition on his lips, ' God be merciful to
me a sinner.' The rich, wild voice of the village
prophet was ringing in his ears, and calling liim also
to repentance and confession. He still heard Alick
repeating, ' He that is unjust shall be unjust still,'
now with a wail of sorrow, now with the trumpet
tones of heavenly wrath. Mr. Bryant was no
224 MR. Bryant's mistake
hypocrite ; not Alick himself had a more thorough
belief in the Bible plan of salvation, more conviction
of its urgency, more desire for the welfare of his
own soul and the souls of those around him. And
yet — he had bribed his sister-in-law that very even-
ing to lie for him, and it was not the first time that
he and she had plotted together to deceive.
' For my poor Emma's sake,' said Mr. Bryant ;
' but oh my God, of Thy mercy's sake, lead me not
into temptation now.' He was most entirely in
earnest ; only he intended his petition to be granted
in a particular way ; he intended Ann Handle to be
got out of Everwell. That would make everything
easy, and could not, he thought, do harm to any
The next day Alick came to see him. Mr.
Bryant trembled in his soul. He felt afraid of
Alick. But no one could have guessed it. He
talked kindly and patronisingly of the prayer-meet-
ing, the sick woman, Alick's influence over the
people and consequent responsibility. Alick, who
was essentially meek and was astonished and half
alarmed by his own success, was very glad to be in-
structed. He took out his well-worn Bible and
exposed many of his ditficulties, asked many ex-
planations, admitted sadly more than one error.
' Come up whenever you like, Alick,' said Mr.
Bryant, really interested in the student. ' I shall
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 225
always be ready to look over a chapter with
' Thank you heartily, sir,' said Alick. But he
stopped abruptly in the middle of a sentence and
gazed at his pastor with those eloquent eyes of his
before which Mr. Bryant quailed. For there had
suddenly struck the young man, and that not for the
first time, a suspicion that he had seen this clergyman
before. Nonsense! A child's recollection — what
was it ? He would never have entertained it had
not his mother put the idea of the mysterious uncle
into his head ! And then, not listening as the
other went on talking rather hurriedly about pre-
destination, he began to wonder what Mr. Bryant
had had to say to Mrs. Leach last evening after
' You never see mother afore yesterday, sir, did
you ? ' asked Alick, abruptly.
' What! has she been saying that again ?' smiled
Mr. Bryant in his pleasant way, but with an instan-
taneous conviction that Ann had already been false
to the compact.
' No, she hasn't said no more about it. Did you
ever know her of old, sir ? ' demanded Alick.
The attack was sudden, and Mr. Bryant was
taken at unawares. He was half awed by Alick,
and Common- sense whispered, ' You disowned the
woman yesterday in this uncompromising man's
VOL. I 15
226 MR. Bryant's mistake
hearing : he will despise you, if you confess
' Your mother is an entire stranger to me/ said
Mr. Bryant ; ' didn't you hear me say so yesterday ? '
During the whole of the following week it seemed
to the clergyman that he was living two distinct and
all but incompatible lives ; that, as in some hideous
nightmare, he was tossed dangerously from one
to the other with imminent risk of catastrophe.
When Alick had left him he had learned that the
Sandfords, distant relatives of Georgina's Baroness,
had come to call, and he hurried to the drawing-
room to support his wife. Mrs. Bryant was of course
terrified; but her husband and stepdaughter atoned
for her deficiencies. Georgina took the measure
of these people at once : the ponderous father and
mother, well born but insular, provincial, and stupid ;
the pert, dressy daughter, older than Georgina, but
unformed and obviously afraid of the half- foreign
beauty. They amused Miss Bryant immensely.
She put on her most fashionable manner and talked
of things quite beyond the ken of poor Miss Gerty.
Her charming condescension to the country folk was
such that no one could remember she was the mere
daughter of the vicarage. Her whole conversation
and manner suggested the Great House. She called
Sir Vincent by his Christian name, and mentioned
some fancy of his in a matter of sweetmeats, which
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 227
betokened great intimacy. Georgina knew perfectly
well that her position in the neighbouring society
was secured, and that there would be speculation as
to her engagement to Sir Vincent. With what delight
did her proud father watch her, guessing what the
visitors — important people in his eyes — would think!
When they were gone Georgina sat on a foot-
stool by his side, stirring his tea for him and laugh-
ing up in his face. ' Mamma dear,' said she, and
both Mr. Bryant and his wife beamed on her as she
said the filial word, ' I am going to make you a new
cap. And you kind, dear papa, you'll let me have
a grand piano, won't you ? And this table mustn't
be here. It is in the way. I don't like the red
carpet and the green curtains. I suppose it is only
a temporary arrangement ? '
' Oh yes, only temporary,' said the clergyman, to
his wife's astonishment and dismay. But how nice
Georgie had spoken to her ! She was going to be
her daughter after all ! Wlien they were alone
Mrs. Bryant took courage to address her.
* My dear,' said the simple woman, ' I have a
terrible quantity of sewing to do. I wonder now
do you understand a sewing machine ? '
' I ? ' said Georgina, ' certainly not. I have
never had occasion to do needlework.'
' But, my dear, instead of making me a cap '
began Mrs. Bryant, timidly.
228 MR. BR YANT S MISTAKE
' I am going to make you a new cap/ said
Georgina, calmly, ' because the one you are wearing
is not fit to be seen. I am not going to do any
unnecessary work. You have made difficulties about
my maid, Mrs. Bryant ; it will prevent future mis-
understandings if I tell you at once, I am not going
to act as lady's maid to you.' Mrs. Bryant was
thunderstruck. Georgina had been so pleasant to
her all day in her father's presence !
' Bless me, Georgie,' she whimpered, ' what have
I done that you should speak to me in that
fashion ? '
' What fashion ? By the way, the next time
visitors come, I hope you will allow me to pour out
the tea. / have some notion how it ought to be
' I shall tell your pa how rude you are,' said
Mrs. Bryant ; much the sort of threat she would
make to Jane.
'Do. Papa will advise you to learn the right
way of pouring tea ; ' which was exactly what
happened. Mr. Bryant patted his daughter's cheek
— she brought the matter forward herself — said he
hoped she would give him also lessons in manners,
and insisted on treating the whole affair as a joke.
But this time he omitted privately to caution
Georgina against hurting her stepmother's feelings,
and he felt greatly vexed with Emma for having
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 229
committed herself in the administration of tea to
That was one of his lives, centering round
Georgina ; two days after he was again roughly
tossed into the other, which had for its centre the
dead child Mary Smith.
He was going from house to house introducing
himself to his parishioners, and wherever he went
he was leaving a good impression. He had pockets
full of lollipops and threepenny bits for the child-
ren, tobacco for the men, and genial words of affec-
tionate advice for everybody. Alick had successfully
prepared his way. The only thing was, and he re-
cognised a certain comicality in the fact, that as yet
he was Alick's adjutant, not Alick his.
' Perhaps these people will not be quite so full
of Alick,' he said to himself, referring to his note-
book as he paused outside the door of the Home
Farm ; ' they are newcomers, but I see Leicester has
not told me their name.' He rang the bell, and
was admitted by a smart and handsome young lady,
who sent for her father, and talked affably about the
weather and the state of affairs in Egypt. Mr. Bryant
was trying gracefully to discover the name of the
family when who should enter from the garden but
Alick Eandle himself — and with him the sunny-faced
girl who had attended him at the prayer meeting.
At the same moment a gruff voice was heard outside —
230 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
' Patty, woman, Joe tells me the minister has
come. Where have they put um and what does he
want with me ? Why couldn't he step down the
meadow without interrupting my woork, if he can
leave hisn so easy ? '
Alick noticed that Mr. Bryant turned pale, and
even made a movement to escape ; but the farmer
and his eldest daughter were already in the room.
' Where is the parson ? ' said Benjamin Eandle ;
' Nan says his name is Bryant. Let me look at
him ? Ay, he's Bryant sure enough.'
The two men stared at each other helplessly,
and all the young people stared at them. Alick
alone had the clue to the scene, and overwhelming
despair filled his soul. The man who had come to
teach him holiness and to show Christ to the be-
nighted children of Ever well was just a common liar !
The farmer turned all the lads and lasses out of
the room, bidding his trusty Patty to remain within
call ; then shut the door and threw his huge bulk
upon a settle.
* Who the devil has played us this trick ? ' he
' You have no conception of the awkward position
your unexpected presence places me in,' groaned
poor Mr. Bryant.
'Ay, it's d — d awkward to be confronted by
unrespectable relations,' said the farmer ; ' so you've
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 231
brought my sister in my way again, have
you ? '
* That woman Ann ' began Mr. Bryant.
'Ay, ay, if I'd known the ticket she was,' Mr.
Handle agreed, ' I'd have kept out of her neighbour-
hood too. I was took in by that psalm-singing son
of hers, and that red girl of mine, who's vulgar
minded and put up with dirt and drink to get her
fling away from us. I'm going to pay her out by
marrying her to the Methody, and if she gets
him into trouble, I'll wash my hands of it.' Mr.
Bryant did not follow all this.
' I suppose Sir Vincent knows that woman Ann
is related to you ? ' he interrupted.
* Why in coorse he does. He's a rare 'un ; not
much like that easy old father of his. This chap
knows every mother's son in Everwell (and the lasses
too, more nor he ought, I expect) ; and what they
have for dinner, and how many pound every man's
arm can lift. Why, he'll talk to you as sensible of
potatoes as if he'd been dropping 'em all his life.
" Don't you leave that upland to the west pasture
another year," says he to me yesterday; "the constitoo-
tion of that bit of land will make mangel if you'll
give it — " I forget the name of the stuff; some of your
foreign chemicals. How's he learnt all that, tell
me now ? But I'll bet you two and sixpence he's
light. I haven't caught him out in a mistake yet.
232 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
And you'd think he was all for horses and pleasure
Mr. Bryant plunged into an explanation of the
blunder he had made. He described the encounter
on the road with Ann reeling drunk, which was an
exaggeration ; ' I really hadn't the face to own her
then/ said Mr. Bryant ; and Eandle laughed and
slapped his knee.
' Just like you, Ned 1 Just like you ! ' he said.
' Oh well, be reasonable,' resumed the clergyman,
offended ; ' I thought of explaining privately to Sir
' I bet you didn't,' said the farmer ; ' you thought
of explaining privately to Ann.'
It was certainly humiliating to Mr. Bryant, but
he had to confess that this was precisely what he
had done. The whole tone of the conversation was
offensive to the clergyman, who had grown used to
soft-toned admiration from bishops and baronets.
' I'd a deal rather do with you,' said Eandle, ' if
you were a natural kind of chap who kep a grocery
like your father. You've perked yourself up, and
that precious wife of yours, and got mixed with the
gentry in a way I can't abide ; and I'd a deal
sooner you kep out of my light. You'll come
to grief some day, and I don't want to have folk
saying, " Them pair of humbugs is your brother and
sister, Ben Eandle." They'll be asking me if I'm
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 2ZZ
an honest man next.' In these unpleasant observa-
tions Mr. Bryant saw a glimmer of hope.
'Indeed, Ben, we both had reasons for being
best separate. In my dear wife's interest '
' In your dear wife's interest and for the sake of
shaking you off my back, I kept that red-haired
brat,' interposed the farmer ; ' I'm a man of deeds,
not words. But deeds ain't good for nothing, if
you come putting Emma back in my pocket when I
thought I'd done with her.'
' Good heavens, what brat ? ' asked Mr. Bryant,
' Her,' said the farmer, pointing with his thumb to
the garden, ' who's out kissing the humpy. She's ready
to kiss any one with hair on his face. It's in her blood.'
' What do you mean ? What girl is that with Alick ? '
' Nannie, they call her ; mine and Sarah's girl,
Xannie. It's my belief she wasn't never christened
Nannie. It's my belief, Ned Bryant, that woman
Ann buried the wrong un, and it's you ought to
have been chargeable for the red hair, as you took
the mother and all her belongings.'
' But what insane delusion is this, Ben ? You
were in the house — you '
' When a man has a good wife and he's losing of
her, he don't trouble himself about babies. He
leaves 'em to the nurse. I don't say as Ann did it
a purpose. One baby's as like another as two ears
234 MR. Bryant's mistake
of corn. She may ha' been tipsy without our know-
ing it, and muddled 'em.'
* But what in the world makes you think so ? '
asked Mr. Bryant, somewhat relieved ; ' / saw the
dead child. Don't you remember ? '
' I ain't going to take your word for it. There
isn't a man alive could identify a baby. I don't
remember either of 'em having red hair in those days.
Anyhow my child hadn't. What makes me think
it ? The way the girl has turned out. She's light
in her ways — not like Sarah's daughters ; and she
has red hair. She's like Emma. Don't you see it ? '
' No, I don't,' said Mr. Bryant ; ' I think she is
like your wife. I noticed the likeness yesterday,
before I had any reason to connect her with you.'
Mr. Randle laughed.
* I do sincerely beg of you,' said Mr. Bryant,
' not to put such an idea into Emma's head, unless
you wish the whole thing brought forward.'
*Ay, Emma's like to tell every one everything.
That's why I don't want her within a hundred
mile of me.'
Mr. Bryant walked about the room in great
' Ben, is there any necessity to mention any of
this matter — our — ahem — relationship, I mean —
beyond the family ? ' The farmer slapped his knee
again, with his loud cackle of laughter.
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 235
' I thought you were driving at that,' said he ;
' I have known you and your notions a long time,
Ned Bryant. I was expecting you to end up with
some speech of this kind, my fine gentleman.'
Mr. Bryant winced. He had always detested
the coarseness of this brother-in-law.
' I must leave the place the first moment I
decently can,' he said to himself as he was walking
away, returning as quickly as he could to his other
life ; for he had promised to call for his wife and
Georgina, who were spending the afternoon at the
Heights. How soothing it was to his tortured
soul to find himself once more in the society of
ladies and gentlemen !
Vincent Leicester also was getting some experi-
ence of hving two lives.
' Sir,' Ahck had said to him, ' I deceived you a
bit when we parted in the winter, and my conscience
won't let me keep the deception up, though it's more
other folk's interests it would serve than my own.'
' Well ? ' said the gentleman easily.
' I told you, sir, as you'll remember, that me
and Xannie was sweethearts ; that she was going to
236 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
wed me. That was the deception, sir ; it's hard for
me to confess it.'
' Changed your mind ? ' asked Vincent. Perhaps
he overdid his careless aspect, for Alick answered
' Changed my mind ? Do you think that's the
sort I am ? I^o, but I spoke more certain than I
had ought. I hadn't asked the lass then, and
when I came to ask her, she wouldn't have me.'
' Oh,' said Vincent, still unmoved ; ' then if you
will take my advice, you will ask her again. Let
us hope she will change her mind. That is a
woman's way.' Altogether too light and cynical
for Alick's comprehension. He maintained a sulky
silence for a minute, then said —
* It makes no difference to any of the rest of what
I tried to say to you that night, sir ; ' and was going
out, but Vincent stopped him.
' Wait a minute. I am not going to have any
repetition of that impertinence, Alick,' he said ; ' I
looked over it once, but I shall not look over it a
second time. Do you hear me ? '
' Ay,' said Alick, sulkily. ' In so far as I did
you wrong, sir, I ask your pardon.'
Vincent opened the door himself and motioned
him out. Then he stood at the bookcase, whistling,
and aimlessly taking volumes down, clapping the
dust out of them and putting them up again.
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 237
' What difference does it make to me ? ' he said
to himself angrily ; ' / can't have her. I wish to
Heaven I had never seen her.' And then he had to
join his mother for the entertaining of Georgina
Bryant, his future wife.
Georgina's entry into what she regarded as her
certain home made a little sensation. The Sandfords
were there, and two or three young men, very satis-
factory to the beauty. She had dressed herself
with care, in a plainly-made dress of becoming
colour, which fitted her, to use her tailor's phrase, as
if she were melted into it. When she came in,
Vincent did feel a certain movement of admiration,-
and planted himself deliberately by her side, with a
short sensation of triumph upon which he con-
gratulated himself heartily. How delighted was
Georgina to be openly appropriated by Sir Vincent
in this way, and how Miss Gerty Sandford envied
her, as the young men hovered round her ; envied
her ease too, her evident habit of reigning. She
was quite like Lady Leicester already. Every one
noticed it, and there was not a person in the room
who didn't think young Sir Vincent had chosen
' Did you say she was an heiress ? ' whispered
young Lockwood to old Mr. Sandford.
* Oh yes ; fortune secured to her from my
relative the new Countess of Cookham. Only here
238 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
on a visit. The attraction pretty evident, eh ? A
most suitable thing for them both. He's a very nice
lad — very nice ; and she's a thoroughbred nice girl.'
Mr. Lockwood and his brother went home
and told that the Bryants were not the kind of
people they had supposed, but connected with the
Leicesters and Lady Cookham ; and Miss Bryant
was an heiress, and the handsomest girl within a
hundred miles, and, it appeared, engaged to Leicester
himself Lord George Frere, who was staying at
Everwell, drew up a report much the same ; only,
being a great friend of Vincent's and knowing his
moods and manners, he was not positive that the
engagement was a settled thing. There seemed
something a little galvanic about the man's part of
the flirtation. As time went on he got to look even
a little bored. And alas for his self-gratulation !
Vincent was bored. After the first minute's
triumph Georgina's sarcastic laugh vexed him ; he
did not like the way she snubbed old Sandford. He
caught her making eyes at George Frere, and began
to think her eyes were bold. She chaffed him and
he answered seriously ; she spoke seriously and he
answered in jest. In the middle of the talk he was
seized with a wish to gallop off Tanswick way, and
see if he had been understood about some trees he
wanted cleared near the site of the projected water-
ing-place. Were all these people never going away ?
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 239
There was no doubt at all about it, Georgina had
lost her charm.
All the while Miss Sandford was neglected, so Lady
Katharine intervened in her behalf, and sent them all
out to play tennis. Gertrude was a brilliant player,
and her spirits rose with the hope of at last outshining
that Frenchified Miss Bryant. But over the whole
party failure reigned triumphant. As they went out
Georgina walked with her lover, but he would talk
all the way over his shoulder with young Lockwood
about right angles and marking machines. Gerty
struck in describing her method of measuring a
court ; but nobody listened, and Georgina made
her furious by a laugh of derision. Vincent was so
sulky that he made up the set without himself, at
which there was such an outcry that both the
Lockwoods took offence, and moreover they were
' out ' with each other, each thinking that the beauty
exhibited preference for his brother. Georgina played
ill ; her eye was untrained, and she objected to
heating herself and stretching her dresses ; yet little
Gerty found her most brilliant strokes unnoticed,
while her very partner and all the spectators cried
' Played ! ' every time Georgina touched the ball to
send it to entirely the wrong place, and ' Hard lines 1 '
whenever she missed it. Even mild old Mr. Sand-
ford, who was proud of his daughter's play, was
irritated. ' Does it occur to you, madam,' he said.
240 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
addressing the unobtrusive but very uncomfortable
Mrs. Bryant, ' that the decadence in the manners of
our young men has any connection with all this
tennis ? In my day we treated a lady as a lady,
but then we were never tempted to forget she was
one by entering into a contest of agility with her.'
Poor Emma, who could hardly manage to keep
her grammar correct, was not at all prepared to be
a censor of manners. She tried to turn the subject,
and showed every one she had never heard of this
fashionable amusement before. ' It's something like
battledore,' she said, ' but I wonder they don't send it
straighter at each other. We used to keep the shuttle-
cock up ever so long by playing slowly and carefully.'
And this speech annoyed Mr. Bryant, who had just
come, and who was not sure that battledore had ever
been fashionable in polite circles.
Georgina refused to play again, and Gertrude
having hesitated modestly and not having been
pressed, the four men made up an ill-tempered set
alone. Georgina asked Lady Katharine to show her
the conservatory, and went away alone with the '
widow. ' Don't let it be " Miss Bryant " again,'
said the girl ; ' I cannot feel you a stranger, dear
Lady Katharine. Vincent has told me so much of
you ! ' Then she blushed and looked down and said
in a faltering voice, 'You know your son and I
have been Vincent and Georgina to each other for
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 241
SO long.' The widow was mucli touched. She took
the young hand in hers.
'My dearest child, I know, I know. He told
How beautiful was the shy, startled Georgina!
' Oh, but I didn't mean that. I didn't mean to
allude to that. WTiat must you have thought of me !
I only meant that he and I were very great friends.
But not anything else,^ you know. Oh no ; only
cousins and — and — very great friends.' And she
sighed pensively. Lady Katharine kissed her.
' I am afraid, dear child, that Vincent won't be
content with that,' she whispered, smiling.
That talk with the mother-in-law elect was satis-
factory, but the lover himself was not satisfactory at
all. Even Mr. Bryant noticed it. And Georgina, the
moment she was out of the great people's sight, let
herself look low-spirited, discomfited, and cross.
Altogether the party broke up uncomfortably in
the extreme. Even Lady Katharine had discerned ill-
humour in the air.
The company of bores were no sooner gone than
Vincent was off like a shot. He forgot all about
dinner, an aberration which had never in his life
VOL. I 16
242 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
occurred to him before, and for which old John
alone was able to account ; he concluded unhesi-
tatingly that his master had been listening to Alick
Eandle and had got Conviction.
' Marry Georgina ? ' Vincent said to himself as
he plunged out ; ' never ! Why, I nearly hate her. ^
She doesn't amuse me a bit. I dislike her. She
has no heart. She is a humbug. She isn't a
quarter as handsome as I thought. How could I
ever have fancied myself in love with her ? '
What a sad falling off was this after the move-
ment of admiration he had been so pleased with on
the day of her arrival Each time he had seen her
since he had admired her less, and no self-persuasion
could blind him to the fact. He took his little
boat and rowed himself savagely out to sea. It was
the time when the strand was deserted, about an
hour before the cobles would put out for the night's
fishing. One or two women with coils of nets
round them were passing backwards and forwards
between the dye-works and the boats ; a few
children played on the sand. Otherwise there was
little sign of life about the place. The tide was out,
and the low, shaly rocks which the people called
the Scar, were uncovered. Vincent rounded the
point to the absolute solitude of the next little bay,
where was no landing except on these quickly
covered rocks, for the cliff came sheer down to the
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 243
high-tide water mark. But his eye caught a figure
there, standing on the edge of the waves, and
watching the splashing and tumbling of the in-
coming surf, golden in the evening glow. She was
quite alone. Vincent shipped his oars and watched
her. Presently she retreated a little, and sat under
a great rock before which was a glorious sea-weedy
pool, never emptied by the tide, and gorgeous with
all manner of ocean jewels and flowers.
Vincent was reckless to-night and his resolution
was taken in a moment. He landed, secured his
boat, and joined her. Had she not said long ago
that she came sometimes of an evening to look at
the waves ? And had he not ever since intended
some day to join her in that solitude of sky and
sea, where old ocean and the friendly cliffs conspired
to secure them from intruders ?
Nannie wore the stuff dress like Patty's which
her father had ordered, but she had not cut her
hair. On the contrary, tired of the prim hat which
had replaced the sun-bonnet, she had laid it on the
ground, and had unfastened the despised red locks,
which floated round her now like a sunset cloud.
Her eyes had the depth and the colour of the
evening sea, yet shone with a starry radiance.
There was always a suggestion of purple about
Nannie ; in the depths of those long-lashed eyes, in
the veins on her white temples, in the shadows of
244 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
her shining hair ; to-night she had emphasized it by
a string of purple beads round her throat where
Patty had desired a linen collar. The beads had
been tied there by her little cousin Mary Anne and
were mere glass penny beads ; the girl's beauty
changed them to amethysts. Thinking herself
alone, she had taken off her stockings to stand in
the tumbling wavelets. When she saw Sir Vincent
approaching she coloured, but was not disquieted by
her little bare white feet, as she would have been
upon discovery by Alick — Alick, whose only idea
of bare feet was that they were naked, and pertained
to the bold lasses of the fishing village which needed
reformation. Nannie couldn't resist a faint smile as
she got up and made a sort of curtsy, coquettish
enough in its mingled respect and friendliness.
Patty or Caroline would as soon have thought of
curtsying to Sir Vincent as of going to dine with him ;
and he smiled at the ceremony from Nannie. ' Pray
sit down again,' said the gentleman, and stretched
himself on a rock at a little distance, where he could
watch her. I cannot undertake to explain what
Nannie was thinking of as she sat silently there,
and knew that he was watching her ; a mysterious
little smile was lurking round her pretty lips ; but
I am much afraid she would not have obeyed him
so readily had she not known this part of the shore,
ever unvisited at this hour by persons of her
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 245
acquaintance. She remembered defiantly the censure
and warnings of her family as she looked at Sir
Vincent, and secure in her admiration, she felt it
a point of honour to trust him imphcitly. And Vin-
cent felt all the vexation and discomfort and anxiety
of a day spent in a false worship roll off his soul
while a calm and beatitude unspeakable wrapped him
in a golden mist of delight. Only nothing was farther
from his thoughts than any love-making. That was
impossible between them, and he did not wish even
to suggest it to ISTannie. So there was a long space
of pleasant silence. And neither of them realised
— Nannie from inexperience ; Vincent from the dif-
ferent experience natural to polished society — what
advances in courtship can be made without the
assistance of a single syllable. However, after a
time they felt a necessity for irrelevant speech.
' You have run away from your family to-night,
Miss Nannie ? '
' I came, sir, to see if Maggie's mother wanted
me again. You know I stayed with her last night
after the prayer meeting.'
' Are you so fond of sick people V
' No. I like well people best.'
' And she didn't make you stay to-night ?'
'No. She is getting quite well. She was
sitting up eating and laughing. Do you know, sir,
she says Alick cured her ! She was like dying
246 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
when he and. I went in last night. But Alick
prayed very earnestly and laid his hand on her, and
anointed her with oil like it says in James. Even
Dr. Yerrill thinks she will do now. Please, sir, do
you think it can be so ? That Alick's prayer cured
' More likely the stopping of Dr. Verrill's
medicine,' said Vincent. 'Pray what does Alick
think of it now ? '
' He is not surprised at her getting well. He
showed me a verse in Mark : " He that believeth
and is baptized shall be saved" Qie means everybody;
we all know that. But it goes on). " These signs
shall follow them that believe " (Alick says that must
mean everybody too). " In my name they shall cast
out devils, and speak with tongues, and drink deadly
things ; and they shall lay hands on the sick and
they shall recover." I didn't know what to say
when Alick showed me that verse. What would
you have said, please, sir ?' asked Nannie, eagerly.
' I should have asked him if he spoke with
' But he says he could, if it was really wanted
for God's glory ! He says it is faith. " If ye have
faith as a mustard seed, ye shall move mountains."'
' Do you believe it yourself, Nannie ? '
' No. I can't somehow. I sliould never have
faith enough, sir ; never — I should say, " As I
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 247
expected, the mountain hasn't stirred ! " But Alick
has faith, and indeed that woman is getting quite
well ! '
' A regular, terrifying, potent magician, Xannie.'
' Oh, please sir, do tell me what I ought to think
about it,' pleaded Nannie.
' I don't profess to understand. You had better
consult Mr. Bryant.'
' But, sir, don't you think prayers are answered ?'
' I haven't the smallest idea. I never met with
the question or thought about such things at all till
I came to EverwelL'
' Didn't you ? ' said Nannie, shocked. Vincent
' You and Alick think of them too much, I
suspect. However, I presume the human soul is
bound to feel after the gods. People saw that very
early. The Jews said that man was made in the
divine image, and the old Greeks had another fable ;
Psyche, that is the soul, was a mortal maid, but
her mate was a god, and he carried her to heaven at
' Oh, I know all about that ! ' cried Nannie
breathlessly, ' I have oh such a pretty book Miss
Verrill threw away. It is called the Eartlily
Paradise. And it tells about Psyche. And the
god was the god of Love ! '
' Yes,' said Vincent. And then there was silence.
24S MR. BR YANT S MISTAKE
for the word Love had been spoken, and it seemed
to chase away all others. But alas for the barrier
between them ! Neither of them dared to pursue
or to manifest the train of thoughts that little word
had called up. Only Vincent breathed hard and
looked at this fair creature beside him, bathed as
she was in the golden sunlight, and the glory
of youth, and the glow of youth's awakening
By this time he was sitting on the rock at her
side, and his arm stole out to go round her. But
he refrained, and jumping to his feet, stood for a
long while looking at the incoming waves, while
unutterable wishes and impracticable fancies chased
each other through his head. He was startled by
a cry from Nannie, as a large wave falling on her
left side sent the spray as far as to her feet.
' Oh the tide ! the tide ! ' she cried, half laughing
and clasping her hands ; ' we have forgotten all
about it, and now I don't know how to get round
Vincent turned. ' In my boat, Nannie. There
is no danger. Don't be frightened.' And he held
out his hand reassuringly. Nannie pushed it away
with the lightest touch of her slender fingers, and
moved backwards, laughing and blushing.
' I am not frightened one bit ! But I think I
had better wade through the water and swim a
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 249
little way. Father wouldn't like me to go in your
' Why not ? ' said Vincent, with so prosaic an
air that Nannie grew still rosier, and felt it would be
very awkward to explain. 'Your father couldn't
like you to sit here for six hours even alone ^ said
the young man, audaciously, ' or to be drowned at
the point, or dragged ashore by your hair in the
grasp of those bathing little boys on the pier.
Jump in, Nannie, and do what I tell you, or you'll
upset the boat. How pretty '
' What ? ' said Nannie, pausing as she stood on
the rower's seat holding his hand.
' I was going to remark what pretty feet you
have,' said Vincent, drily, ' but I thought perhaps
you'd be angry.'
' Yes, I am very angry,' said Nannie, sitting
down demurely where she was bidden.
He hoisted the sail, and they scudded away
swiftly over the lonely waves. They did not talk
any more, but they were both radiantly happy, and
would have liked to speed on for ever thus — together,
over the purple sea, under a golden sky. Vincent
watched her pretty closely, and Nannie kept her
eyes down, only very occasionally stealing a glance
at her companion, and doing her very best to over-
come the little smile that dimpled her cheek.
Vincent tacked several times unnecessarily ; but
250 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
they arrived at the shore half-way to Tans wick far
too soon. N'annie sprang lightly on the beach, and
when Vincent repeated —
' What pretty feet you have 1 ' she only laughed
softly. Then she said very gravely —
' Good-night, sir, and thank you.'
' Sha'n't I walk up with you ? It's a long
' No, thank you, sir. Please will you listen to
me now for a minute,' and through her merry smile
was an air of terrific resolution. ' I sha'n't come
down at this hour on the scar any more to be
caught by the tide. And I'm never going in yon
boat. Never again.'
' Bless me, Nannie ! Why not ? '
' Never again,' repeated Nannie ; ' it — it makes
me sea-sick.' And she couldn't help laughing a
little, and Vincent laughed too.
'You look very rosy considering you are sea-
sick ! ' he said, just tapping her cheek with his
finger, and then he turned back and got into his
boat again, and sailed away out to sea, forgetting
all about dinner, as I have said. By degrees his
smile, which long lingered, faded away in the
seriousness of reflection. ' I have not done much
good by running away,' he said to himself. ' Well,
the running-away style of warfare was never the
one which attracted me most. I will face this
ILL WEEDS GROW APACE 251
matter and see what comes of it. But to begin
with, I will make a solemn vow, taking this sky and
this sea to witness, that I will do Nannie no harm.
She is as innocent as my mother ; and by Heaven
I will never make her otherwise.'
Faerie Queene, book iii. canto i. verse 45.
The sun rises each morning and disperses the morn-
ing mist, and climbs ' the high-up heavenly hill/ send-
ing his beams far through transparent blue or hiding
them behind curtains of coming storm, all just as
he has done a thousand times before ; quite care-
less that there are restless hearts sick to death of
regularity and calm, weary sufferers crying for the
end of all things, happy souls who, like Joshua, bid
the great lamp stand still ; and young hopeful
children of fortune who would hurry the wheels of
his chariot, because though they are well now they
think to be better by and by. And when the day
comes which is to make some change, to begin a
new order of thinc^s in some folk's lives, that un-
feeling old sun who sees it all, ojives never a siojn
of emotion, but goes on with his work just as usual ;
the eternal model of patience, fidelity, and absolute
self-control. It was one of these eventful days
which dawned at Everwell.
Alick Eandle was standino' at the door of
256 MR. Bryant's mistake
his workshop, his face haggard as after a long
night's watching. In very truth he had not slept.
By a path that he knew not it seemed his
God was leading him, and his earthly part shrank
back from the unknown, over which, however,
streamed for him an unearthly light. Was it a
Will-o'-the-wisp? a lighthouse on a fatal rock?
a candle for a moth ? or was it in very truth the
Pillar of Fire lighted by God's own hand to point
out the way ? Alick had agonized in prayer all
night for guidance, and when the morning came,
while it was yet dusk, he saw strange beckoning
hands, and heard strange voices saying, ' This is the
way ; walk thou in it.'
For the fever had been spreading during these
few thundery days of premature heat ; and Alick
had touched the sick other than Maggie's mother ;
and the report ran now that recovery each time had
followed — nay, that in one case the sufferer had
seen the holy man enter all transfigured by
heavenly radiance, flooding the cottage with golden
light, waking jewels in the mud walls, changing the
floor to glass, and the hearthstone ^ to jasper, till
there was vision of the New Jerusalem, as John saw
it in the isle of Patmos ; and Alick's voice, which
the bystanders had heard breathing a quiet prayer
in the name of Christ, had sounded in the sick
man's ear as a voice of many waters, saying unto him.
' Thy sins be forgiven thee.' When Alick heard
that story he trembled very exceedingly; and he
listened when old John Price said he preached a
better gospel than the new parson, and when wild
Samuel Dykes assured him that God chooseth the
weak of the world to confound the mighty. The
whole village came to the meeting that night,
for the conviction had spread like wildfire that
the divine finger had showed itself, and that the
pestilence and the signs and the wonders were a
warning and a voice from heaven. And before
Alick appeared Samuel Dykes rose up, strongly
impressed, he said, by the spirit, and addressed
the people ; preaching unto them less the one
great Allah than Alick Eandle his prophet : —
till everything ordinary in Alick's career, every-
thing capable of a natural explanation was forgotten
and nothing was kept in view but his mysterious
superiority. Among ignorant people any strong
impression is infectious. Alick himself was not so
superior to those about him as to resist the infection
of their belief, when upon joining the assembly he
was greeted with a shout almost of worship. He
had dreamed so long of being a prophet, a teacher
set apart by Heaven for a peculiar service, that he
was prepared to hear in the Vodz PopvM the Vox
Dei ; and he was ready to obey the call.
But Alick had not that powerful element of
VOL. I 17
258 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
success, an unwavering self-confidence. In his heart
he was hesitating now, and praying for a sign.
This gift of healing ? His transfiguration in the
eyes of old Western the fisherman ? Alick, the
stern truth -teller, had discerned exaggeration in
these reports ; and he was unable to consult the
minister, for, alas 1 the minister was a liar, and
Alick had lost all faith in him. He had to find
out the truth for himself So Alick went to the
meeting, and he was stirred to his soul, first by the
large attendance and then by the growing enthu-
siasm and confidence. He prayed aloud ; he spoke
of sin, and the people wept ; of salvation, and they
cried, ' Hosanna to him that cometh in the name of
the Lord.' He had power, it seemed, to move their
souls which way he would. Could he refuse to
believe that God was with him ? Yet he doubted
still ; and in the room were two or three who
doubted also, and waited to see whereunto this
And then Alick, half to persuade himself, spoke
of the prayer of faith and a God pledged to answer
it even to the removing of mountains. Such
mountains, thought Alick, as the hardness of godless
hearts and the great wickedness of men's corrupted
souls. But ah ! his hearers were of the earth earthy,
and they cared little really for righteousness and peace
and joy in the Holy Ghost. When Alick spoke of
B ASCI ANTE 259
mountains they thought of Everwell clift's, and when
he spoke of serpents, they remembered the vipers
they had found on the moor and the rattlesnakes in
spirits of wine which Dr. Yerrill kept as chimney
ornaments. And now the doubters cried aloud,
' Alick, show us a sign ! ' and he did not with his
Master reply, ' An evil and adulterous generation
seeketh after a sim.' For he was himself craving
for a sign. Had not the commission of the very
Jesus been openly signed and sealed by the Father's
audible voice and the descending dove of the pre-
sence of the Spirit ?
And then the people, — Samuel Dykes, the lean
man who had spoken of Alick before his arrival,
who was faith and confidence personified, acting as
spokesman, — took up the words Alick had just read
to them, words w^hich in Alick's voice full of holy
awe were impressive — had not little Xannie been so
impressed by them that she had learned them by
heart and repeated them on a not particularly suit-
able occasion ? — and said :
'Alick, it is the Lord's promise that the signs
shall follow. Man, wilt thou not show thy faith
before the people, and in sight of the sun and
the world, drink in God's name of a deadly thing to
show it will not hurt thee ? '
A strong shudder seized Alick as he turned his
mild eyes on the speaker, and he saw the eager faces
26o MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
around him, and knew they were all waiting his
answer. Quick, a prayer for guidance ! The eyes
were raised to heaven, the nervous hands were
crossed upon his breast —
'Lord, I have told that the words are Thine.
Shall I doubt them now ? Is this Thy call to test
me ? Is this the seal of my commission ? Thou
shalt show Thy glory ! or I will die for Thee,
believing that my death shall glorify Thee.'
There was a hush in the room while Alick spoke,
and when he had done there was long silence as of
the grave. Then they separated till noon, when
the ordeal was to take place. And Alick sent a
message to Kannie, bidding her to come to him
And then followed the sleepless night of ecstasy ;
the fear of death, the setting of his things in order,
for it seemed to the still doubting Alick that mere
death in his Master's cause was to be the end of all
his hopes, his aspirations, his many failures, and
his sudden success ; his prayers and his agonies, his
fear of himself and his great faith in God. The end
too of his earthly love ; his care for Nannie, his pure
passion for her, his soul-cleaving to her, which
would fain have carried her with him up into
the heaven for which he yearned. For Alick had
no strong confidence that God would protect his
Nannie. It was the remains of the old asceticism.
God had ipcrmitUd His servant's earthly love, but
it could not be thought to interest Him ! He might
forget to take care of Nannie when her lover had
gone to be his God's only !
Strange, grotesque, heathenish ignorance and
superstition from beginning to end ! Yet the obedi-
ence, the self-abnegation, and the courage which were
needed by a Loyola, a Luther, a Paul, were here in
this obscure village prophet. He believed that
God had called him, and he rose up to obey.
And the sun rose just as usual and shone on
Everwell unfeelingly, — shone on Mr. Bryant con-
sidering the dangers he had escaped, and the horrible
nest of poor relations into which he had stepped :
on Georgina, weaving nets of French fashions for
lovers ; on Vincent, thinking of Nannie and wishing
himself a fisherman ; on Nannie, wishing herself a
lady and preparing, rather unwillingly, to run off'
when breakfast was over and see why poor dear
Alick wanted her so early. And it shone on a
sorrowful ecstatic man ; who had seen beckoning
hands and heard the call of holy voices ; who had
risen serene and resolved, yet believing in some
confused way that he was called to death and the
laying down of all earthly joys ; and that the seal
of his commission, the sign, the test of his faith, was
to be the martyr's triumphant end.
262 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
He took her aside, and after a brief moment of
agitation, told her what had occurred with an un-
natural calm which frightened the girl more than
any excitement. But Alick did not make his
account of the ordeal by poison clear. He talked
too much of resigning his life at the call of God, and
Nannie did not take in that the people expected
to see him live. She thought he was going to be
murdered, and his resignation filled her with horror.
Was he going out of his mind then ?
Nannie darted into her aunt's parlour, found a
sheet of paper and wrote, underlining every other
word: ' Please, sir, something dreadful is happening ;
Alick is going to be poisoned. Please, please, sir,
come down yourself and stop it. — Nannie.' She
snatched the baby from Mary Anne and sent the
child with the note to the Heights. ' You will
run, Polly. You won't stop a single moment. And
you will ask to see Sir Vincent, and will put it into
his very own hand yourself.'
But little Mary Anne did linger with a school-
fellow ; and at the sweety shop, for Nannie kept
her little cousins rich in pennies ; and then she
stopped on the cliff to watch the boats come in, and
altogether it was past ten before she reached the
Heights, and learned that Sir Vincent had gone out.
She left the note with John and dawdled home
Alick had gone into the workshop to speak to
his men, and JSTannie, with the baby on her knee,
waited with her aunt, and looked with terror at the
advancing clock, and at the spectators already begin-
ning to assemble for the miracle at noon. Poor
Mrs. Leach was excited and lachrjmiose.
' I'm mortal afeard at him, Nannie, my lamb,'
she said ; ' Jim Eandle, his da, always said to me,
" That boy, Ann, has all your resolution, and a
pig's head as well." '
' It's not that, aunt,' said Nannie, mechanically ;
' Alick thinks it is right'
' Nan,' said Mrs. Leach, coming nearer, ' do you
think it's true that my poor boy with his head is a
prophet like Elijah and Jonah ? I begin to think so
myself. He's wonderful like an angel when his head
doesn't put him in tantrums. It 'ud look as if God
didn't mind tantrums so much, if He gave him
whatever he asked for. Do you think He does ? '
' I hope not, aunt.'
' But seeing as you and your father think of
marrying him. Nan, it 'ud be a mighty convenient
thing in a husband if he could do miracles. You
wouldn't never want a doctor for your children,
264 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
my dear ; and if he could stomach anything, law
now, feeding him would be easy.'
' Here is Mary Anne at last ! ' cried Nannie,
How the child's report frightened her ! Without
hesitation she flew off to the Heights herself.
' My pretty dear,' said John, ' it ain't seemly so
many young lasses coming after my young master.
I kep your note for Sir Vincent, but I read it first,
and I can tell you, my lass, though it's nat'ral you
should be in a taking about your sweetheart, I'm
glad my young master is gone out till evening by
train with Lord George, the noble gentleman ; for
Sir Vincent is but carnal, and addicted to quenching
the Spirit and hindering Alick.'
' Oh, if I had only come myself at first ! ' cried
Nannie, and she went away again, running and
crying and panting, and almost praying herself, but
for Sir Vincent Leicester's presence.
' Dr. Verrill ? Ah yes ! A good idea.' Nannie
rang violently at the bell of the pink house.
' I can't speak to any one ! ' called the doctor
from an upper window. ' I am making a calculation
for a new febrifuge. Go away.'
' Sir, it is life and death with Alick ! ' cried
Nannie, from the road below.
' Oh, pooh ! You ought to know his seizures by this
time. Go home and put a mustard plaster to his feet.'
' Oh, what shall I do ? ' sobbed JSTannie, as the
window slammed down again. ' I will go to the
new clergyman ! '
Mr. Bryant felt an unconquerable aversion to
confronting Nannie. He sent out word that he
was always engaged on Friday morning with his
sermon, and all business must wait till the afternoon.
There was no time for expostulation. The girl
returned to her cousin. She found a crowd, chiefly
of fishing people, assembled before the door; and
Alick, with his head bare to the sunshine, preaching
a farewell sermon. He smiled as he saw Nannie
and beckoned her to his side. He took her hand
and bending towards her, whispered gently, touched
by her distress —
' Nannie, it ain't to the glory of God for thee to
cry, but bless thee, my lass, my lass ! '
' Oh, Alick, come away ! ' cried Nannie, beside
herself, ' I'll do anything for you if only you'll come
away ! ' And then a great terror seized her that
Alick would take her at her word, and come down
and make her marry him. But Alick gently put
her from him.
' Nannie, don't ask me to think thee a tempter, my
lassie. I must not sell my soul even for thee.' Then
Nannie dashed her tears away and stood up straight.
' I'll never tempt thee, Alick,' she said; ' listen, the
clock is striking. Give me the poison ! I will hand
266 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
it to thee myself.' There was sign of disapproba-
tion in the crowd which had watched this strange
love scene impatiently ; but Samuel Dykes, the
lean fanatic, proposer of the ordeal, passed the
deadly cup to Nannie, who received it, while Mrs.
Leach screamed lustily, setting off Sally and Lizzie,
and not a few of the other women and young people
standing by. The men, vexed by this commotion,
set up a loud-voiced and inharmonious hymn,
nervously noisy and dictatorial. Alick alone pre-
served his seraphic calm. ' Let us pray,' he said,
one arm round Nannie's neck and his hand in hers.
He had paled as he threw his last look at the sun-
shine and the sparkling sea, beautiful to his painter's
eye, and he did not trust himself to look at Nannie.
The crowd sank on their knees and the wailing of
the women was conquered by admiration and
wonder. Then there was silence and Alick stretched
out his hand for the potion.
' Thank thee, my love, my wife ! ' murmured
Alick ; for somehow at this supreme moment he
could not concentrate his thoughts on heaven, and
was thinking far more of his sweet Nannie, submitting
to his embrace, and about to be relinquished for
ever. All this time the girl had been holding the
mug containing the poison and summoning up
courage for what she was meaning to do ; now,
closing her eyes for a moment as if concentrating
her fast ebbinsj strene^th, she fliiuej it with all her
mis^ht asjainst the wall of the house, where it was
shivered and broken to atoms.
What followed all seemed like a dream to Xannie,
who had exhausted her nervous force, and could have
yelled herself into fits like her aunt. She was just
conscious of a momentary hush fallen upon the throng,
as if they recognised in this interruption the expected
miracle.; then that Alick was displeased and pushed
her from him, and that the crowd caught the infection
of his mood, and drove her away. Staggering, trem-
t)ling, yet content in having accomplished her object,
she sank on the doorstep and tried to still her
beating heart, and to silence the roaring in her ears.
The crowd was disappointed of their show, and there
might have been an uproar. But Alick and the
lean man were equal to the occasion. Alick knelt
again, this time alone, his eyes fixed on the heavens
and his arms crossed on his breast. And again
silence and calm were restored while the people
watched to see what he would do. And Samuel
Dykes had had the forethought to bring a second
draught of the deadly liquid, which he produced
now. Alick drank it.
And horrible fear fell on the assembled throng,
and every face turned ashen and every pulse stopped ;
and these rude villagers realised what they had done.
But Alick still knelt in prayer, and was struggling
268 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
with a suffocating sensation in his throat, while the
fair receding world reeled and danced before his
closing eyes, and he heard with eerie distinctness his
mother's cries from within the house, and dear
Nannie's gasping sobs from where she crouched on
Ten minutes passed of stillness and horror —
twenty ; and Alick, who had believed himself
entered into the Valley of the Shadow of Death, felt,
to his amazement, the effects of the dose, or of his
fear, passed off.
Explain it how you will : that the stuff was
impure and old, that the lean man for reasons of his
own had adulterated it or had administered some-
thing else ; that it was Alick's idiosyncrasy to be
able to take that particular poison ; — there was only
one explanation for him and for the people of
Everwell. And so he rose from his knees a new
man. Not merely had the oppressive doubts of
himself passed away, but a great clearness seemed
to have fallen over his whole onward path ; scales
had dropped from his eyes. He was verily invested
with his commission by the divine hand ; he was
transfigured publicly before all the people.
So he rose, to the strong awe and terror of
the crowd ; and seeing the eager faces round him,
crowding upon him, straining their ears to hear his
most trifling word, he began in the power of his
inspiration to preach ; but not as before, with sup-
plication and agony; his tone now was one of
authority, and his message one of gratulation.
Alick's voice rang with triumph, as did Christian's
when he emerged from the Valley of Humiliation.
Never again would he know perplexity or suffering ;
fear for himself or others ; doubt that the way un-
known was in very truth the way of life !
In the middle of which sermon Mr. Bryant came
up, listened for a few moments, then felt the pro-
ceedings objectionable and tried to disperse the
assembly. But Alick Eandle looked at him with
an expression of opposition altogether new, and con-
tinued his address. And the people remained in rapt
attention, the attitude of their minds obedient ; so
that presently Mr. Bryant had to retire, vanquished.
We take the events of this strange day as near as
possible in the order in which they happened.
While Alick was working miracles, Mrs. Bryant
with her husband's permission, had been to see her
relations at the Farm, and Caroline escorted her
part of the way home ; en route they met Nannie,
returning a good deal shaken after her morning,
and Caroline introduced her to her aunt.
270 MR. Bryant's MISTAKE
' I am glad you enjoyed yourself, my dear Emma/
said Mr. Bryant, ' but another time pray do not
stay so long. I have been embarrassed by Georgina's
curiosity.' He smiled as he spoke, for it had
always been Mr. Bryant's habit to smile at his wife,
and he was in love with her still in a prosaic,
middle-aged sort of way, not incompatible with con-
' I wish you would tell Georgie, Ned. If she
sees the dear girls here she'll be wondering why I'm
so loving to them.'
' I hardly think Georgie would appreciate that
blunt, housekeeper-like personage they call Patty.
You, as a girl, were singularly unlike that, Emma.'
' I didn't ask her, Ned. I did see she wasn't
' Whom have you asked ? ' questioned Mr.
' Caroline, who you said was something like I
was. And the little one, Nannie.'
' Nannie ! ' Mr. Bryant flung the window open
noisily, not sure how to express himself prudently.
' She was the baby when I saw them last. She
was the same age as '
' Emma ! '
' I know, Ned. But it gives me an interest in
Nannie. And she looked such a lovely creature
with beautiful bright hair and such soft eyes, and a
B ASCI ANTE 271
smile like an angel. She's as pretty as Georgina,
Ned. I suppose you haven't seen her, or you'd have
told me.' This comparison of the terrible child to
his daughter was unbearable.
'I won't have that girl coming about here!' he
said explosively, his pulse quickening. How in-
expressively vexatious of Emma to take a fancy to
Nannie ! Alick Eandle was waiting to see him in
the study, and Mr. Bryant went down, reflecting
unpleasantly that his second marriage had not turned
out so well as he had expected, and half-wishing he
had let it alone. Long ago he had been unable to
think of Mary Smith without a perceptible diminu-
tion of affection for her mother, and now here was
Mary Smith by his very side. How was he to
endure it ?
' Well, my man,' said Mr. Bryant, patronisingly,
' you have come to account for your preaching at
that early hour. Sit down.'
' I have other things to say to you, sir,' replied
Alick ; ' but maybe it will do no harm if I explain
the preaching first.' Mr. Bryant looked hard at
him, and detected a change in his manner.
' My dear fellow,' said the clergyman, when
Alick had impressively described his morning's
work, ' I have met with this sort of thino- before in
my ministerial experience. You are mistaken if
you expect sympathy from me ; or if you think you
272 MR. BR YANT S MISTAKE
or any one is endowed with miraculous gifts. You
have misread your Bible. You had better, if you
have really swallowed poison, go off at once and
consult Dr. Verrill, or you will find yourself very
ill to-morrow, which will not be at all romantic,
my friend ; not at all.' A prosaic and slightly
humorous view of the situation, not likely to
commend itself to one so serious as Alick.
' Sir,' said the young man, with unconscious
dignity, ' I cannot listen while you blaspheme the
power of the Holy Ghost. But I did not come
here to talk of myself I came, in G-od's name, to
reprove you for the lying tongue you have brought
among us. Mrs. Bryant was my father's sister, sir,'
he said, after a pause.
' Ah, I suspected from your presumption that you
had been informed of that fact.'
' And you paid my mother to keep that a secret, sir.'
' To speak plainly, Alick,' said the candid Mr.
Bryant, relenting from the severity of his last
remark, ' I am ashamed of your mother.'
' When you found my uncle was here too,' con-
tinued Alick, ' you trembled. I saw you ; I was by,
I and the girls. You haven't dared to bribe my
uncle, but it seems you have persuaded him also to
hold his tongue.'
' Benjamin Eandle is aware of reasons which
make this our wisest course.'
' What are the reasons ? ' Mr. Bryant, his arm
thrown over the back of his chair, was looking his
adversary full in the face with temper, candour, and
' There is no necessity to impart them to you,
my friend,' he said, with a smile. ' Come,^do you
know that you are making yourself ridiculous V
' Maybe, sir. But I mean, reasons or no reasons,
to step up to Sir Vincent Leicester and to tell him
the whole truth.' Mr. Bryant quaked.
' Eeally ? I have no doubt Sir Vincent will
be grateful. Suppose you find he knows it
already ? '
' Don't try befooling me, man,' cried Alick ; ' you
ain't told Sir Vincent, and you ain't a-going to do it
without I make you. But I will have nought to
do with the cursed thing. I will have no lie on my
conscience. I will be no partaker in other men's
sins. If you, or some one belonging to you, have
done wrong '
' Before I indulge you in further vituperation,'
interrupted the clergyman, sternly, ' I must know
what you mean by that insinuation.'
' I know nought against you, sir,' said the man
with apologetic humility, ' but I cannot think
what else you should want to lie about it for.
There ain't nothing to be ashamed of in belonging
to working folk. I'd have expected a minister to
VOL. I 18
274 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
see that when our Lord Himself was a carpenter.
Sir, there will no good come to Everwell, if him as
has been set over us is a humbug and a liar, and I
tell you in God's name I will not suffer it to be.
Do you understand me, Mr. Bryant ? it ain't that I
think less of you for being my own kin. It don't
bring us no nearer together in the matter of book-
learning, and money, and all the things that go to
make a gentleman. You'll not find me wanting in
respect to all that. But a gentleman has the same
need as a common man to be honest ; and I will not
hesitate to withstand you if you ain't that, which is
the A and B of Christianity. I'll give you a day
or two to bethink yourself, sir. But after that,
whether you have spoken or not, I'll tell my story
to Sir Vincent Leicester.'
Mr. Bryant made no attempt at dissuasion. He
recognised the pig-headedness long ago discerned in
Alick by his father, Jim Eandle ; and he almost
wished he could see signs of the poison taking effect
upon him. Alick was not to be influenced by any
arguments the clergyman could use, nor to be
silenced by any bribe there was to offer. And then
there flashed across Mr. Bryant's mind, what in his
irritation he had been near forgetting, — a sense of
how true were Alick's accusations ; how entirely he
condemned himself; how miserably he had failed in
his duty, not only as a Christian minister, but as a
B ASCI ANTE 275
Christian man. And he remembered how this very
Alick, whom he was regarding now with aversion
and contempt, had stirred his soul a few nights
before ; and he recollected with a shudder his own
petition, surely sincere ? that the path of truth
might be made easier for him than the path of lies.
The fulfilment had come then ?
* Good heavens ! ' thought ]\Ir. Bryant, ' this
man's superstition about direct answers is more
reasonable than I supposed. And I — I find the
answer intolerable. I prefer the way of deceit !
Good heavens ! '
Mr. Bryant had ' conviction ' ; but to keep it up
in absolutely pure condition w^as not easy. The
wind of his thoughts began to veer round a
' Leave this place I must,' he said within him-
self, ' but I will do it with dignity, and if possible
without sacrificing the interests of my beloved and
my most creditable daughter.' And then : ' Merely
confessing that I have risen from the ranks is nothing.
I have made no secret of it. Yes. I remember
distinctly informing Leicester himself of the fact.'
But it had been far better for Mr. Bryant if he had
admitted to himself candidly that he was very sore
about his origin ; that he was put out with his wife
because she could not so successfully conceal her low
birth as could he ; that, in fact to establish incon-
276 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
testably his position as a gentleman was the very
summit of his ambition.
' You must know, John,' said Sir Vincent, angrily,
' that it is preposterous in you to tamper with any
one of my letters.' Nevertheless he had presently
to appeal to John for an explanation of N'annie's
poor little note. John told of the sign and the
wonder and the holy man with great unction, and I
think expected his master to fall on his knees then
and there in holy awe. The effect upon Vincent
was different however. He laughed heartily ; then
sent a message to Tanswick, and himself galloped
off towards the village, drawing bridle first at Dr.
' Always delighted to see you, sir,' said the little
man, who, having lately adopted a theory that eating
and exercise should be simultaneous, was marching
up and down his garden, his sister by his side, each
with a bowl of odoriferous food in one hand and a
spoon in the other. They did not offer to pause for
conversation, so Vincent had to join this peripa-
tetic society, and to step out too, for the Verrills
were noted for their quick footfall. 'You have
learnt Latin since I have, Sir Vincent ; I shall be
glad to submit to your criticism a passage, obviously
corrupt, in an early horticultural author '
' I know nothing of horticultural Latin,' in-
terrupted Vincent ; ' what is all this about Alick
Handle ? '
' Alick Eandle,' said the doctor, ' is the most
valuable subject for experiment. This will be the
fifth letter I have written about him to the London
Medical Journal !
' Brother,' said Miss Verrill, ' I consider you
have been premature. Alick Eandle may die
' Then I can write a sixth letter to-morrow,' said
the doctor, his mouth full of cabbage.
' Have you given him an emetic ? ' suggested
' No ; the news did not reach me till too late.
Otherwise he might have taken a decoction of that
red agaric. It is the most efficacious emetic I know.
But I daresay it would not have answered. Alick
is not a good subject for emetics.'
' May I ask what you have done for him ? '
' Nothing. A man who can swallow that per-
nicious drug and not be a corpse in ten minutes, is
best left to the doctoring of nature.'
Vincent was powerless over the man of science.
* If you refuse to prescribe for the idiot,' he said,
278 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
and he dies, you will have to account for it, won't
Dr. Verrill took out his note-book and wrote
down : ' V. L. choleric ; eyebrows dark, straight.
Not much reasoning power. Shaves excessively,
but not entirely.' ' I shall not be the first martyr
in the cause of science,' said Dr. Verrill, piously,
putting away his memoranda : ' Sir Vincent, if you,
or other uninstructed person go doctoring Alick, and
he dies, I shall feel it my duty to take proceedings
against you. Fools, Sir Vincent, fools rush in where
angels fear to tread. But many medical men are
not the fools they look, sir ; they give bread pills.
I admit to having done so myself in my young and
cowardly days.' Vincent gave it up, remounted his
horse and rode on.
He found Alick kneeling in the new schoolhouse,
and about two dozen young lads and lasses watching
him. Vincent thought the man was at his devo-
tions, then discovered he was only adding a little
decoration to the wall. The spectators took no
notice of Sir Vincent ; but if Alick licked his brush,
or turned his head, they nudged each other and
said, ' Lord have mercy ! Did you ever ? ' Now
and then Alick said a word in pursuance of a
desultory conversation with these persons, though
at the moment he was obviously engrossed in his
' Why, the very disciples, who was far ahead of
us, said, " Increase our faith." Ay, they got rich
answers, I'm thinking. Do you remember how
Peter healed a man lame from his mother's womb,
and had an angel come to take him out of prison ;
and John had a vision of Christ and of the heavenly
city such as one would go blind for all one's days
after to see ? '
Vincent, after waiting for some one to pay
attention to his presence, at last advanced. ' I want
to speak to you, Alick. What are all these persons
doing here ? If you come in to see after the
cleaning or anything, 3^011 had better bring only
those whose assistance you require.' And he turned
the admirers out, a Little roughly. They crowded
outside, with the obvious intention of resuming
their stare when that interfering long chap had
cleared off. Vincent was not unmindful of Alick's
growth in imposingness.
' You have wrous-ht a miracle ? ' he said, seating
himself beside the painter.
' By the grace of God, sir,' replied Alick.
' I see no reason myself to think it a miracle.
Perhaps you have not considered the hundred and
one possible explanations of the event ? However,
the point at present is. What effect do you intend
tliis strange occurrence to have ? ' Alick paused to
consider before answering this difficult question.
28o MR. BR YANT S MISTAKE
' I trust, sir/ he said, ' that it may lead to holi-
ness in me and to the salvation and sanctification
of all the people in Everwell.'
' That is no doubt an excellent and a pious wish,'
said Vincent, ' but I don't think those boys and
girls I found here were thinking of holiness or
caring twopence for salvation, whatever that means.
They were trying to get your recipe for such an
excellent trick as you performed this morning for
' Sir ? '
' Attempts at conjuring of that sort in the hands
of performers less skilful than yourself, will, I'm
afraid, have disastrous results, and I must prevent
any such playing with edged tools by every means
in my power. So I have taken a strong measure
against you, Alick, as you will see in a minute.'
' Sir,' said Alick, earnestly, ' suppose you found
you could do it yourself; that you could say to yon
table in God's name, " Be thou removed and cast on
the other side of the temple ; " and it obeyed, what
would you think ? '
' The thing is absolutely absurd and impossible,'
said Vincent, impatiently.
' Sir, it will do no harm to answer the question,'
said Alick, with a touch of his old self-doubt.
'I certainly shouldn't think such a senseless
exhibition had any smack of divinity in it. I
B A SCI ANTE 281
should not — at least I hope I should not — employ
such a meaningless gift profanely to exalt myself
or to make the vulgar stare.'
' All, sir ! but if it was a signal of the power of
God to raise the eyes of men to Him ? or if it was
for the good of your fellow-men '
At this moment the door, which Vincent had
locked, was violently assailed, and gave way in what
to some persons seemed a miraculous manner,
admitting a large concourse of agitated people, who
streamed in and surrounded Alick, some standing
on the benches, some kneeling before him and
clasping his hands, or his knees, or his coat tails.
To do the prophet justice, he looked a good deal
embarrassed and annoyed. As for Sir Vincent, he
was brushed aside like any impertinent dog or
spider : the key to the position, however, lay with
him, for he presently discovered at the tail of the
procession two blank-faced constables from Tans-
wick, whom he had himself summoned to take
Alick in charge for attempted suicide. Sir Vincent
entered into conversation with these men, keeping
his eye on the culprit, that what he supposed the
attempted rescue might not take effect. Xow,
however, it was observed that the rabble had
brought with them a paralysed, semi-idiotic beggar,
who was a familiar object on the strand, and a
recipient of superstitious affection from the fisher-
282 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
men. He had been carried now to be healed ; for
Alick's allusion to the lame man at the Beautiful
gate of the Temple had been a seed dropped on a
' Policemen, do your duty/ said Vincent. They
advanced timorously, looking at each other and at
their unresisting prisoner, and at each other again,
with growing nervousness. Alick's expressive coun-
tenance, however, showed that the fanatic rapture
was coming upon him.
' Alick ! ' cried the beggar's sister, a woman of
singularly wild and picturesque aspect ; ' oh pray !
And it may be thy power of God will save the
sinful soul and the sick body ! '
' Come now, Alick,' said Vincent, impatiently,
' don't encourage this folly ; we've had enough for
one day.' Alick turned from him as from a
messenger of Satan.
' In the name of Jesus of Nazareth,' he cried, ' I
bid thee to rise and walk.' The policemen dropped
their prey like a hot potato, and the whole crowd
fell on their knees. The pressure of the people
straining forward was too strong for the benches,
one of which gave way (miraculously, of course)
with a great report like that of an earthquake !
The paralysed man uttered a loud shriek as of one
falling into a fit. For a few moments he lay
shaking and rolling ; then he, who had not walked
for years (so, at least, he said), struggled to his feet,
and propping himself upon his sister, hobbled off
towards the door, the whole crowd making way for
him, and then closing behind him and following
him out, crying, ' Praise God ! Hallelujah ! ' their
curiosity * taking them, for a time at least, after the
healed instead of the healer.
' Do your duty,' repeated Yincent to the police-
men. But they stood aside, shaking their heads.
' He is a holy man,' said one.
' He'll bring the house down upon us,' suggested
'Has the whole world gone mad?' exclaimed
the gentleman ; ' come, Alick, I see you'll have to
go with me.'
Now that the excitement was over, Alick had
turned pale with rigid and nerveless features. He
staggered and would almost have fallen ; agitating
Sir Vincent this time, who thought the poison was
beginning to work. But after a moment the fanatic
' Thank you, sir,' he said, leaning on the gentle-
man's arm. ' I am a faithless servant. I am fear-
ful at seeing the expected answer to my own
supplication. "VVTiere is it you wish to take me,
'To the police station,' answered Sir Vincent,
284 MR, BRYANT S MISTAKE
Vincent having seen Alick safely bestowed for the
present, returned homewards a little disturbed in his
mind, and feeling extremely glad that his friend
Mr. Bryant was in Everwell to deal with this
sudden and extraordinary heresy. There was some-
thing most restful in the thought of theological
sermons, temperance societies, emigration schemes,
and penny readings. Vincent had the dimmest
notions of such matters, but he was pleased to
think the village was connected with a supply of
such wholesome nourishment, and he proposed to
turn on that tap at once.
' How fortunate,' he thought, ' that the new
parson was the first question to come up. Old
Septimius would have been powerless at this crisis,
but my faith in Bryant is unbounded.' And then :
' How I wish I could see Nannie. She will think
me profane, and what is worse, unkind, to have
ordered Alick off to prison. It would be well to
explain to her myself.' Only he hesitated about
going to the Farm ; for he liked to get hold
of the girl apart from her relations. Perhaps
if he pottered about near her home he might
meet her somewhere. Then he thought it was
not quite right somehow to be pottering about
looking for her ; and he walked on. And then
he came back, ridiculing any idea of impropriety
or danger in an accidental meeting and a w^ord
or two about Alick. And then he remembered
that Nannie had almost forbidden him to seek
her aoain ; and he turned a^^ain with a sisjh, and
gave up the idea of explaining about Alick at
all. So he wandered hither and thither over the
moor-side, so wild and desolate and removed from
the ordinary surroundings of men that when he
heard the puff of a train coming along the single
line, the sound struck him as incongruous to the
scene, and he stood still to watch this strange
monster, disturbant of the peace of the lonely
Meanwhile, when the miracle was over and
Nannie had gone home, poor Mrs. Leach had begun
to feel great reaction after excitement. She had
twinges of conscience, and was tearful and very
talkative about repentance ; at the same time she
felt an increasing desire for strong waters.
' I believe Nannie would say it was for my health
this time,' she moaned. ' Oh, Lord ! I can't do
without Nan to-night. Sally, my dear, do for
goodness' sake run up to the Farm and bid 'em send
your brother's sweetheart back to me.' The poor
woman could not stop crying, and she knew Nannie
286 MR. Bryant's mistake
would say in her firm gentle way, ' Aunt Ann, you
must be quiet.'
Sally, however, refused ; and at last the excited
woman resolved to go herself and see the dear girl,
who was to be her blessed boy's wife, please God.
And she thought that if Nannie did not forbid, she
would go afterwards to Tanswick, where the publi-
can and his wife were very respectable and great
friends of hers, and probably had not yet heard the
great news of the miracle ; and she could get a drop
of something to do her good without any one know-
ing. Nannie, however, was away in the dairy, and
Patty said it was not convenient to call her. Mrs.
Leach was not welcome, and indeed was shown the
door very quickly.
But how angry was Nannie when she came in an
hour or two later !
' Tanswick ? ' cried the girl ; ' did she say she had
business at Tanswick ? Caroline, why didn't you
keep her ? Why didn't you call me ? It is worst
of all when she goes to Tanswick. Well, you have
given me a walk. I must go after her and bring
her home.' And without attending to expostulation
she was off before prevention was possible. ' Oh,
poor dear aunt ! ' said Nannie, running and panting.
But she was tired enough, poor little girl, and most
heartily wished herself in the little white sanctuary
B A SCI ANTE 287
' Yes, aunt, I think so. I do think so,' said Nannie,
imploringly. ' I will talk to Alick about it. But
it isn't safe to stand here, the line curls so, and I'm
sure I hear a train somewhere.'
'But, Nan,' said Mrs. Leach, who was drunk
enough to be very argumentative, ' God who taught
Alick to swallow the poison could do such a little
thing as prevent a train coming up while we are
crossing the line. If you have faith, says my
blessed boy, who is like a holy 'postle to this
dreadful wicked place, all drinking and lying — I
ain't afeard of the train, Nannie. Why, the enging-
driver can stop it hisself, so it stands to reason God
' AVe have had enough miracles, aunt. I don't
like them. Please, come on.'
' But it don't need no miracle. Nan ! AA^iy, the
wheel might come off, or '
' Aunt, I tell you there is a train coming ! Oh,
I am frightened. I am really ! '
Mr. Bryant, the man of leisure, was taking his
evening walk, and thinking over all manner of un-
pleasant things. There was a signal post near, and
seeing the signal down, he checked his step and
288 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
leaned idly over the hedge, listening to the advanc-
ing puffs and watching, without thinking of it, the
steam rising behind the trees which concealed the
curving line. And presently he perceived two
people standing talking on the line below — the line
which in an instant would be traversed by the
' insupportably advancing' steam-engine. 'Hallo!
Hallo ! ' was on his lips as he started from his idle
waiting, ' what idiots you country people are, to be
sure ! ' But the alarum died upon his stiffening
lips. For it was — oh, heavens ! — the very dangerous
woman, the very detestable girl, whom he had just
been wishing under the sea, annihilated, unborn.
' Why, what an easy frighted lass you are, to be
sure, Nan ! Now I ain't frighted one bit, and I'd
be glad to show my blessed boy '
' Aunt, look at it ! Oh, the whistle ! Oh, help,
help, some one ! Oh, we shall both be killed —
killed ! '
The whistle was blown at them indeed, and still
Mrs. Leach stood there staring stupidly the opposite
way. Nannie ran to the bank, and then ran back
again, screaming, poor child, and beside herself,
seizing Mrs. Leach's hand, but powerless to move
the heavy inertia an inch. Mr. Bryant saw they
were going to be crushed. Perhaps a nervous horror
seized him. Probably it was so. He tried after-
wards himself to believe it had been so. He uttered
B A SCI ANTE 289
no word of warning, made no step to the rescue.
And the train dashed on. It was too late to do
anything now. No cry of his could be heard above
the rattle and the roar ; no ste^D of his could out-
strip the messenger of death. With a sudden and
awful realisation of what he had done, he turned
and fled — never looking back ; hearing Nannie's
screams, confused cries and shouts, and always that
diabolical railway screech, louder and louder with
its note of useless warning. He ran — he hurried
as if the winds were chasing him. He stumbled in
the darkness, then reeled to his feet, and hurried
on ; till he reached his home — the pretty house
he had entered with such innocent satisfaction one
little month ago ; where was his beautiful daughter
wdio jumped up exclaiming at his ghastly face, and
the low-born wife who was the cause of all his
trouble. Emma touched his arm, and he shook her
off as if she had been a viper. He felt a hatred
of her enter into his soul, which he had damned in
her service ; he wished he had loathed instead of
loved her, given her curses, chased her away into
infamy, led himself not into temptation above that
he was able to bear, such as was not common to man,
for which was provided no way of escape.
But no one had seen Mr. Bryant, or ever learned
that he had witnessed the occurrence on the rail-
way. Nannie in her terror could discern nothing
VOL. I 19
290 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
but her motionless charge and the advancing doom ;
and by this time Mrs. Leach had perceived the train
' Call out to the man to stop, Nan/ she cried ;
' I've got a stroke like Jim Leach had. I can't
move, Nannie ! Oh, stop it ! stop it.'
But now came a loud, distinct shout from the
' Nannie ! Fly ! Eun to the side this instant,
darling ! Eun ! run ! '
Impelled by an emotion very different from Mr.
Bryant's, an instinct which gave wings to his feet
and thunder to his voice, — Vincent Leicester had
also been startled from his reverie by the screech
of the warning whistle as the train came round
the tree -shadowed curve. He was on the Tans-
wick side, at some distance from the level
crossing ; but after a moment's bewildered stare
he saw the imminent peril of the two women on
the line, and he saw also who the women were.
How he got down the slope on the top of which
he had been loitering he never knew. It was a
fearful race with the powerful and heartless monster
of human creation.
' Fly, Nannie, fly ! Oh, my love — my love ! '
But he was not surprised when Nannie, instead of
obeying, only clung the closer to the dazed and
terrified woman who was in her charge. And
Vincent knew that the surest safety for the girl lav
in the rescue of the woman. Nannie would never
forgive the man w^ho deliberately saved her and left
her helpless companion to perish ! There was but
a moment and the thing was done. Vincent seized
Mrs. Leach by the arm and forced her into safety,
and Nannie saw the deliverer and added her little
might to his. The train whizzed past as they
stood crushed up against the wall, Vincent with a
grasp of Mrs. Leach's shoulder that left the mark
of his fingers for many a day, and ISTannie now
clinging to him and swaying with weakness.
The engine-driver stopped his train as soon as
he could and sent the guard to see what had hap-
pened. So close, so fearfully close had the monster
passed, it was impossible to believe that no harm had
been done. But the women and their sa^dour had
vanished; and the single line, and the narrow grass
strip at each side, and the steps up the stone wall
were silent and unremarkable as usual. ' Them
crossings should be put down by law,' said the
driver to his stoker and went on, thinking of the
incident no further once the trembling of his hand
'Mrs. Leach, you have been drinking,' said her
deliverer ; and bade her go home ; and looked real
terrible at her, handing her over the stile as stiff as
you please, with his teeth chattering like a hailstorm ;
292 MR. BR YANl S MISTAKE
and she wept and obeyed him right away, for ' his
words was dreadful true, and had a sting in 'em
like the tail of a wasp ! '
But Vincent remained with Nannie. The events
of the day had been too much for her. She had
He kissed her to life again, there alone on the
moor-side, the cold moon all the time watching as
harmless a pair of lovers as ever her chaste beams
had brightened. When Nannie o^Dened her eyes,
she looked up into his and felt his lips on hers, to
which some slow warmth was returning. She was
in his arms and for a few moments her spirit was
wrapped in a lull of great happiness, while closing
her sweet eyes again she rested her gentle head
against his breast.
* Nannie ! Nannie ! ' murmured Vincent, ' don't
be frightened, my own treasure. You are quite
safe. All the danger is over now.'
Nannie did not stir for a moment. Then her
heart began to beat violently, and her full conscious-
ness returned. ' What are you doing ? ' she cried
suddenly, sitting up straight and throwing off his em-
brace. ' You must not touch me like this ! Go away.'
It was a great revulsion of feeling for Vincent,
who had forgotten everything but that he loved
her, and that she had been restored to him out of
imminent peril. He obeyed however, rising and
moving back a few steps to the low wall skirting
the line. Xannie remained sitting on the ground,
and for a few minutes they gazed at each other
silently out of reproachful eyes, their faces pale and
agitated. The crisis had come suddenly, but they
both recognised it. After a few minutes Nannie
burst into tears.
'I didn't think — I didn't believe you would
have done so ! ' she said. ' How could you ? '
* Nannie, how could I not ? When I love you,
and when I had thought you were going to be
killed before my eyes ? I have done you no harm,
JSTannie. An honest man's love never did any
woman harm. What are you afraid of ? '
' I am not afraid/ said Nannie, proudly ; ' there
is nothing you can do to me, sir ; to me. But you
oughtn't never to have touched me when I couldn't
speak to say, go away. And you must not talk to
me of love.' Her voice shook.
' If I have erred, Nannie, I ask your forgiveness.
I am going to talk to you of love. I love you as
my life, Nannie. I have loved you from the first
moment I saw you. I want no love but yours.'
' No,' said Nannie, trembling, ' you and me
294 MR. BRYANT'S MISTAKE
mustn't never love each other. Please, sir, I would
rather get home now, if you will let me.'
He raised her to her feet, and supported her
while she stood for a moment to collect her strength.
' Do you remember the day in the boat, Nannie?'
said Vincent, gently, holding her hands and pressing
them to his breast. ' I think — you love me now.'
The girl raised her head. ' Perhaps I do,' she
said, simply, ' I do not know. If I do, it's the more
reason you shouldn't talk to me so.'
' My sweet Nannie ! Oh, my darling ! Yes,
Nannie, I may — I will — to gain you as my wife,'
' Oh no, no,' cried the girl, ' you know I couldn't.
Oh, let me go ! '
He led her homewards, one arm supporting her
and his hand clasping hers, for she was very weak
and could not refuse his assistance to her tottering
steps. They were still a long way from the farm-
' I will not take your answer now, Nannie,' said
Vincent, presently. ' Only remember we liam
spoken to each other of love ; and that, even if we
wished it, we can never get back to where we were
yesterday.' Nannie made no answer, but a little
After some distance, he seated her on a rock beside
the path. She consented silently, her tearful eyes
watching the moon floating amid the torn clouds.
Vincent stood by her side looking down upon her, his
hand on her shoulder. At last Nannie's eyes travelled
slowly from the heavens to his face, and rested there.
Then Vincent took from his finger a ring which he
always wore and gave it to her gravely.
' I want you, Nannie,' he said, ' to keep that, till
in a day or two I see you again and talk to you
again of love. That ring, Nannie, was given to my
dead father by my mother, and was a pledge
between two brave, good people that they meant
fairly and truly by each other. There is a word on
it in a strange language which means Faith. It is
one of the most sacred things I possess, Nannie.
And dearest — dearest, I give it to you, to-night,
as a pledge — ' he paused for a moment, seeking an
expression which would say all he meant, but
without startling her, ' that I love you fairly and
truly ; and that your love, if I might gain it, would
be always to me a priceless and a sacred treasure.'
Nannie's thoughtful eyes still rested on his as
she took the ring and held it a little doubtfully.
' But it could not be ! oh, how could it be ? ' she
said, with trembling lips.
' I would find some way, dearest,' said Vincent,
' No, no,' cried Nannie again, as if afraid to face
the thought so dangerously sweet. But she tied
296 MR. BRYANT S MISTAKE
the ring on a ribbon round her throat, hiding it
below her dress. Then she rose again and stepped
wearily on, Vincent beside her.
' Please,' said N"annie, shyly, ' I haven't thanked
you for pulling us away from the train. You saved
'And my own, [N'annie. How could I have
survived seeing you crushed ? Darling, will you
give me one dear kiss, at least on that pretext —
that we were in great danger together ? '
She raised her lips to his simply enough.
ISTannie had always been chary of her kisses. She
was half frightened to feel how gladly she gave
' Eeflection, you may come to-morrow.' For the
present, Vincent's only feeling was one of immense
relief and triumph. She loved him ! She had con-
fessed it ! She would be his ! No more attempts
at stifling that overmastering desire ; no more use-
less struggles against Fate ; no more propriety in
galvanic flirtations with Georgina ; no more semi-
criminal attempts to maintain himself in a false
position. Eight or wrong, he had pledged himself
now to this trusting and innocent girl ; he had
chosen his part and would abide by it right manfully.
As he had bidden Nannie remember, it was impos-
sible now to get back to where they had stood yester-
day ! And to-night, feeling so strongly how beautiful
and how good she was, fairer and sweeter and nobler,
it seemed, than any woman he had known, Vincent
felt ashamed of his hesitation, ashamed that love's
confession had burst from him half involuntarily at
the last, instead of having been his deliberate pur-
pose from the first moment of his passion. Diffi-
culties ? what were they ? Man was invented to
overcome difficulties ! Difficulty becomes delight
when the guerdon to be gained is of priceless value.
And to-night — to-night — with her pure kiss on his
lips, the echo of her sweet voice in his ears, the
heaven of her starry eyes in his memory, — to-night
when she had lain unconscious in his arms and had
awaked to life and to love in his embrace, while the
soft summer airs wrapped them round and the
distant waves made nature's music, and the chaste
Diana who had loved the shepherd bathed them in
her liquid glory, it was not possible for the lover to
see one defect in the maid he loved. She was pure,
she was delicate ; brave and resolute and strong.
And she was beautiful as the sea and the stars, as
the sunlit clouds, as the soft hush of gentle-footed
evening ; beautiful as a young man's dream, as the
wave-born goddess, who lays a spell on the hearts
VOL. 1 19a
298 MR. BRYANTS MISTAKE
of men ; as Eve in the garden of Paradise. And
she loved him. She would certainly be his. There
was no room for thought beyond desire and exulta-
tion in the sparkling glow of Hope.
' Reflection, you may come to-morrow.'
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